Buried in “Hilariously Stupid” White House Attack on Socialism, An Accidentally Strong Argument for Medicare for All

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Yves here. It appears Republicans have noticed how popular socialism is with the young and felt compelled to Do Something about that, in the form of a 72 page soi disant report by the Council of Economic Advisers on the “Opportunity Costs of Socialism”. Apparently no one told them that Basque region of Spain, dominated by the worker-owned Mondragon, which has strict curbs on executive pay, had the lowest post-crisis level of unemployment in the country.

Even this post, however, misses the idea that there are different types of property rights, even with supposedly private property, as Jerri-Lynn’s discussion of the “right to repair” illustrates. Sandwichman at Econospeak made a similar point by hoisting this matrix from Elinor Olstrom:

By Jake Johnson, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

From its heavy-handed comparisons between mild-mannered democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders and militant communist revolutionary Mao Zedong to its bizarre assertion that the Scandinavian economic model is a failure due to the high weekly costs of owning a pickup truck in Finland and Sweden (seriously), a White House attack on socialism was roundly mocked almost as soon as it was released on Monday, with informed critics arguing that the report reads as if it was plagiarized from a college freshmanwith a serious Ayn Rand obsession.

Titled “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism,” the Council of Economic Advisers’ (CEA) new 72-page paperpurports to offer an empirical analysis of socialist policies—but what it actually does is make what analysts described as “hilariously stupid” and “intellectually embarrassing” claims accompanied by charts and footnotes that give off the appearance of scholarly diligence.

Characterizing the CEA’s report as a “truly bizarre document,” Vox‘s Dylan Matthews notes that the paper’s bibliography contains “a mix of books about mass atrocities in Communist regimes, economics papers on the distortionary effects of taxation, and works by socialists, like the essay Voxpublished by Jacobin staff writer Meagan Day defending democratic socialism.”

But a look beyond the CEA’s hysterical rants against socialism’s supposedly totalitarian nature reveals that the White House accidentally makes a strong case for Medicare for All, which the paper describes as the “headline American socialist proposal.”

After attempting to discredit single-payer healthcare programs—which multiple polls now show most Republicanvoters support—as “similar in spirit to Lenin and Mao,” the CEA produced a chart showing short wait times for seniors under the current U.S. healthcare system compared to those under the Canadian and Nordic systems.

As Vox‘s Sarah Kliff notes, the CEA conveniently omits the fact that “America’s seniors are essentially in a single-payer system”: it’s called Medicare.

“The Trump chart doesn’t say what the White House seems to think it says,” Kliff concludes. “It isn’t telling us that single-payer healthcare has long wait times. If anything, it says that it is possible to build a single-payer system with short wait times—and our Medicare program has already done it.”

In a tweet, Sanders offered Trump his congratulations for making such a good argument in favor of Medicare for All:

The CEA’s Medicare for All faceplant was just one of many ludicrous components of the White House’s latest effort to ratchet up fear of the coming socialist menaceahead of next month’s midterm elections. According to recent survey data, a growing number of American voters prefer socialism to capitalism—hardly a surprising finding, given that just five men own almost as much wealth as half the world’s population and tens of millions of Americans are just one emergency away from economic peril.

In a Twitter thread, Public Citizen highlighted a couple more of the report’s egregious lies:

But as the left-wing magazine CurrentAffairs pointed out on Twitter, no detailed breakdown is necessary to recognize that the CEA’s paper is total bunk.

“The White House paper on socialism can be dismissed in a sentence: it defines socialism as state ownership rather than worker control, and therefore does not have anything to say about socialism,” the publication noted. “Sorry that you wasted 72 pages and a bunch of hours, White House CEA.”

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  1. Tomonthebeach

    Sad commentary on our republic that we have a government that lies to us from the President on down. Alas, the truths unmasked in this article will never make it to the eyes and brains of MAGA heads where it might erode a little of the propaganda that they assimilate daily.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      maybe so…except for the eyes and brains within and without the feedstore, produce aisle, or wherever else i happen to be.
      and remember: “…According to recent survey data, a growing number of American voters prefer socialism to capitalism—hardly a surprising finding, given that just five men own almost as much wealth as half the world’s population and tens of millions of Americans are just one emergency away from economic peril….”

      how are they expected to learn of an alternative, or the numerous commonalities they share with us,if we’re too afraid(or hateful) to offer it?

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        You know what would be funny? ( Unless it caused violent reactions . . . ) A MAGA hat with a Sanders button on one side of MAGA and a Karl Marx button on the other side.

        “Make America Greater Than Ever . . . with Trump, Sanders and Marx.”

    2. John Wright

      I don’t see this as a sad commentary on our republic “that we have a government that lies to us from the President on down”.

      Given LBJ’s Gulf of Tonkin incident and the entire conduct of the Vietnam War, Bush’s middle east wars spin-up, and the entire Global War on Terrorism, we SHOULD have a population that views its government as quite capable of having “lied to us from the President on down”.

      Our Civics classes should teach that governments, everywhere, frequently lie to their populations to get them to do actions they would not do otherwise.

      It is called propaganda.

      A more skeptical population might rush into fewer wars.

      1. Tom Bradford

        Surely the point is that the US has never before had a Government that lies to us from the President down so blatantly, ineptly and self-servingly.

    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

      The problem isn’t that we have a government full of people who lie. The problem is we have a population who have stopped thinking of the government as composed of “the help.”

      I mean that in the nastiest way possible. These Congressmen, Presidents, and Senators shouldn’t be treated as the “honorable” whatever. They get to set their pay, so they should never get the benefit of the doubt. The most honest man once elected shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt.

      1. paulmeli

        “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

        Virtue (or corruption) accounts for a PART of what government does.

        If the government didn’t spend (invest in the commons ie create money) we would all be living like the Amish, the people of India or worse.

        The private sector accounts for maybe 40% of employment, and that in anticipation of income/savings (potential gains) put on the table by government.

        With no money to win but their own, why would a business invest? Business profits (aggregate) can only come through internal or external money creation.

      2. Elizabeth Burton

        Precisely why I keep telling people they should check for their wallets any time the media refer to something “our leaders” have done or said or whatever. They are not supposed to be “our leaders.” They are elected as our employees. That we have abdicated that viewpoint is precisely why they are now, in actuality, employed by the plutocrats and corporations and behave accordingly.

  2. Roquentin

    As ludicrous as it is, I think a lot of people on the left are making a big mistake by simply dunking on a few details of the report and leaving it at that. The Current Affairs comment is particularly cringeworthy, because while technically accurate, it obscures the fact that many on the left advocate for state ownership and label themselves as socialist. Look, I know this is an old battle on the left, going back to countless debates on whether or not the USSR was genuinely socialist or merely state capitalist, and I’m not really looking to rehash that here. I just thinking it’s very sloppy to attack the CEA’s paper for doing conflating something which is very common among today’s left and act like you’ve debunked the whole paper.

    I don’t think there’s a single, solitary good faith argument made in the entire 72 page report either, but that’s besides the point. None of the people who will cheer for this will be reading Vox, much less Current Affairs. You may as well have written the takedowns on a bar napkin and thrown them in the trash as far as that crowd is concerned. You can rest assured anything written in a liberal or left publication simply will not reach the overwhelming majority of Trump supporters and conservatives, and even on the off chance it did it would be instantly dismissed as “liberal propaganda.” To be honest, I see the whole thing as intensely frustrating rather than something to cheer about.

    1. a different chris

      I think a lot of people on the left are making a big mistake by simply dunking on a few details of the report and leaving it at that….You may as well have written the takedowns on a bar napkin and thrown them in the trash as far as that crowd is concerned.

      So your first sentence wants them to write a detailed breakdown, master’s if not doctoral thesis sized I guess, yet the last (quoted) sentence says don’t even bother with what they already did?

      Take a deep, deep breath. I know these are trying times.

      1. Roquentin

        Touche’ I suppose you are right. None of them will read it anyway, so why bother. I guess I’m just more frustrated by the left celebrating and gloating in regards to things which are in no way victories. I run in those circles, and it isn’t just limited to this instance. I suppose that’s a coping mechanism for dealing with an increasingly right wing and indifferent to human suffering US government, trying to convince yourself you’re on the winning team.

        But ultimately, you’re right, this article probably doesn’t merit a serious response since it is so fundamentally dishonest and the people who will be persuaded by it will have no interest in any genuine debate.

    2. Dirk77

      As MLK once said, both capitalism and socialism neglect aspects of human nature. Both alone will fail. So it’s easy to critique either in isolation. And by doing that you obscure what should be the main point: that some middle way/golden mean is what civilization should be working toward. I think a lot of people have a hard time considering the middle way bc there there rarely is a final answer. You never get the touchdown, to the end zone really. But you get a hell of a lot closer than crap like arguing about capitalism vs socialism and whether this country or that was truly socialist or capitalist. It is incredibly telling that Ayn Rand with her slobbering over Aristotle dismissed his fondness for the golden mean. So yes, if you dismiss this report just bc your definition of socialist doesn’t match theirs you need to do more work.

    3. jrs

      I agree that the Current Affairs comment was lame. Yes ultimately capitalism is about who owns the means of production, good leftist point to reiterate sometimes, but noone anywhere near power is really arguing for worker control.

    4. Carey

      I agree, and note that both liberals and to a lesser degree the left love to exclaim “they’re
      stupid!”. They might or might not be stupid, but what they definitely are is *in charge*.
      Gloating comments on Twitter do not equal winning.

    5. rd

      Based on what I have seen on Fox News when exercising at the gym, the only socialist country is Venezuela because that is the country that is always held up as the example of socialism. So apparently, socialism is not a significant factor in Canada or the European countries, which means we can adopt some of their policies as many of them are not failed socialist states as portrayed on Fox News. I think I can live with that approach.

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        I can, too.
        call single payer M4A whatever you like…make the card that they’ll inevitably insist on 3 foot by 2 foot and put a big ass american flag and a carrion eating bird on it.
        Similar to the feed store denizens preferring “honest wage” to “living wage”.
        or the “Earned Income Tax Credit”…I call it an annual dividend check,lol…and put it to prudent use.
        If that’s what it takes for the hoopleheads to accept universal healthcare, so be it.

    6. Jeff W

      None of the people who will cheer for this will be reading Vox, much less Current Affairs.

      That’s true—and Current Affairs, which I usually admire, can be faulted for its own technically-correct but beside-the-point response. (I imagine the Current Affairs crew found the report so ludicrous that, rather than rebut its points, it might as well remind people as to what socialism actually is, at least in its view.)

      But I take solace in the fact that these “hilariously stupid” and “intellectually embarrassing” claims are the best this “council of economic advisers” (intentionally lower-cased) can come up with. Most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, are for single-payer/Medicare-for-All. People are no longer spooked by that scary word socialism. They have some idea of how health care works in other advanced country in the world. Health care is ranked as “very important” by a majority of voters and the “most important issue” by a quarter of them, so people are paying attention. Sure, the people who will cheer for this won’t be reading Vox but I’d surmise that the now-engaged majority wanting Medicare-for-All won’t be cheering for it—or, if they are, it will be because they are taking it as a pretty good sign that their opponents don’t have much of an argument.

  3. Carolinian

    I believe Trump, at one point in the past, said that he could favor single payer and he has most definitely–at one point–said that drug prices should come down. The reality is that the hilariously stupid “White House” attack on socialism is the default position of the US pigs at the trough establishment.

    It’s still hilariously stupid.

    1. Eureka Springs

      I agree. Trump is not the problem on this issue. He would jump in front of a Medicare for all parade or tail gate party if these howling neoliberals would give him one to jump in front of. Bernie could have framed his response better as well. On the report, not the recipient.

      1. jrs

        To say the report makes the case to most people for single payer, I don’t know about that. I think it’s more a divide a conquer tactic. We all know the over 65s have Medicare. Maybe it is to scare them: “if we gave everyone single payer, your Medicare wouldn’t be so nice”. That’s the implied threat. Keep the governments hands off my medicare!!! And it might work.

        I think it’s meant to operate at the level of generational warfare really. “I”ve got mine” says granny. Well we all know which age demographic voted more for Sanders. It wasn’t those who already have Medicare let’s just say.

        1. Big Tap

          My mother who is 84 is on Medicare. She asked me about the ‘for all’ part. She pays hundreds of dollars a month for Medicare plus an advantage plan and still had co-pays and prescription costs to deal with. She said if people today can’ t afford health insurance even with subsidies offered how are these people going to afford Medicare for All? If some of the new beneficiaries are subsidized she didn’t think that was fair to her. This could become a Republican argument aside from ‘Medicare is running out of money and these new people with only speed up its insolvency’. The current Medicare population needs to be convinced this is a good idea since they are being scared to death of its demise by both parties.

          1. marym

            In the House bill HR 676 there are no co-payments or deductibles and or need for supplemental (Medigap), prescription drug, alternative Medicare Advantage insurance plans. Coverage is expanded to include vision, dental, and other types of care.

            There are some differences with the Senate bill S 1804 as far as coverage. For example, the House bill includes long-term care, but the Senate bill says this coverage will be through Medicaid. The Senate bill also allows for cost-sharing for prescription drugs.

            I haven’t been tracking changes to the bills, but if they once eliminated premiums (at least I thought HR 676 did) that’s not in the current bills. There’s a general description of funding in the House bill, which includes things like a “modest” payroll tax, and Sanders once published a white paper on suggested funding alternatives. Supposedly 95% of all people will pay less out of pocket than what they’re paying now for Medicare and/or private insurance, and coverage would be expanded to many areas not covered by traditional insurance.

            In my opinion Democrats supposedly supporting these bills have failed to clarify and communicate this – the scope of the coverage and the expected changes to out of pocket costs – as your own family conversations indicate.

            I’m not sure what your describing as far as Medicare and Medicare Advantage. The latter includes whatever is covered under original Medicare, along with Medigap coverage and, depending on the Medicare Advantage plan, may also include other coverage. A person wouldn’t have both original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. In any case it’s a nightmare of different options. The simplification of a real, comprehensive Medicare for All would make all that unnecessary.


          2. Elizabeth Burton

            Explain to her that under universal health care she would no longer be paying insurance premiums, co-pays or deductibles, and neither would anyone else unless they chose to purchase additional insurance coverage for some unfathomable reason. I understand her confusion, because I, too, pay the Part B premium despite the fact my total Social Security payment wouldn’t even cover my rent.

            The fact is there has been progress toward the privatization of both Social Security and Medicare made since the Reign of Reagan, which is why it’s no longer what it was intended to be. Small wonder, then, that people are confused.

        2. oh

          This Red Kool Aid drinker I talked to told me that M4A would increase taxes and create long waits for medical care. I told him that’s nonsense and he switched to “the Government can’t handle anything right” and I responded with “Then why are you on Medicare?”.

          These people just spit out what they hear without thinking. As far I’m concerned, fervant Repigs and Dimrats are mindless zombies who’ll believe the propaganda without questioning anything. That’s why we’re in this mess. Benays sauce works everytime!

    2. jrs

      Meanwhile in actual policy the Trump administration moves further and further away from single payer. Cuts to medicaid, work requirements for medicaid. Medicare and Medicaid are the closest we actually have to single payer, and if these get cut, I see no indication that we are moving toward rather than away from single payer under Trump.

  4. KYrocky

    Capitalist, socialist. Neither term fits America’s economic situation sufficiently. The closest would probably be plutocratist. So much of America’s economic system, in both the private and public sector, is now controlled by a relatively small number of men whose goal is self-enrichment. Milton Friedman’s Free-Market capitalism theories cannot account for the centralized, monopolistic control these few, again in relative terms, men exert through their capture of our government’s financial, regulatory and legal functions. The latest tax cuts were looting in a societal context, as will be entitlement cuts should they come. Profiting through gaining control of our government, last time I checked, was not included in Friedman’s explanations of the free-market.

    Those who tout the free-market as the savior to America’s health care system are idiots. Medicare has decades of proven results of greater cost effectiveness and delivery of service than anything the market could offer. What the market has done is use their control of our government to create carve outs to Medicare for Private Insurance supplementals protected from competition with Medicare, and including prohibiting Medicare from negotiating for pharmaceuticals.

    Under Republican control America’s government will continue to serve the rich at the expense, socially and economically, of the vast majority of our population and generations to come, and socialism will always be the boogeyman.

    1. Doug Hillman

      Quite right. The American economy is decidedly post-Capitalist. Among viable terms — plutocracy, oligarchy, corporatocracy, etc — I would describe its economy as rigged-market cannibalism. It is in the process of dismembering and eating its own kind and itself.

      Kevin Phillips in Wealth and [Versus] Democracy shows how the degeneration or devolution of Capitalism which requires antitrust regulation to function, is intrinsic in its DNA. The concentration of wealth/power at some point reaches a tipping point that swamps all regulatory checks and balances. It already expired of old age, probably in the 60s-70s and democracy along with it of course. Since then, corps have become persons, all antitrust regs have been gutted, political bribery has been institutionalized by the Supine Court, and the Federal (sic) Reserve Cartel has carte blanche to print unlimited debt. The only nominally socialist institution we have left is an unaccountable military run by a finance-intelligence complex bent on industrial-scale slaughter fir full spectrum diminance. In that light, it’s kind of comical to learn from US Pravda that the integrity of our democracy are now threatened by Russia and Venezuela. Sanders seems like a decent enough man but he’s either just a candle in a haboob or worse, another hope-and-changeling.

      It’s not all bleak though. This empire too will topple on its feet of clay, fairly soon I suspect. If not by nuclear Holocaust, then quality of life in it’s aftermath may be something wonderful if beacons like Naked Capitalism catch fire.

  5. rd

    The three countries that have the largest percentage of seniors waiting at least four weeks to see a specialist are countries with low population density with a relatively high percentage of rural people. It is very difficult to staff rural areas with low density populations with specialists. In many cases, having one specialist quit means that a large area will not have that specialty at all and people may have to travel significant distances to go see a specialist.

    My suspicion is that we would see a similar pattern in the US if it was broken down between high and low population states.

    Also, the US spends more public money per capita on healthcare than nearly every other country on that list, so there should be better access for seniors. This implies that at least our socialized part of the healthcare system is somewhat efficient, at least for this metric.

    1. rd

      Norway and Netherlands are the only countries that spend more public money per capita than the US. Switzerland is right behind the US. Switzerland and the Netherlands are small, densely populated countries with significant health care expenditures (although still 25%+ less than the US in aggregated private and public) so it makes sense that they are neck and neck with the US for specialist availability for seniors. The other countries are typically spending much less (60% or less) of US per capita healthcare costs.

      So it is clear that the secret to having specialist availability is to have a largely urban or densely populated country and then throw wads of money at the specialists.

  6. KYiana

    I think a social democracy makes sense – say, 80% socialism, 20% capitalism for financial incentives. I believe we will evolve into that eventually, world-wide. Change may happen faster than expected, the beginning of which hopefully we will see with this election. There are many factors that will push us in this direction, including social unrest with lack of access to resources (which is all money really is), rapid technological changes (including new clean and cheap energy sources), decentralization of information – giving more localized control and power, etc. I am a student of “Tipping Point,” “Black Swan,” and “1% ordered orders the whole / self-organizing criticality physics/social order” principles that give a perspective for real hope that there is a solid underlayment for shifts to sustainable living on this planet. Soon we should see some very surprising developments emerging ; ) .

    1. Chris

      Pray tell. I am looking for some evidence based reasons for hope. My profession as a ditch doctor (paramedic) painfully reminds me every day what life holds in store for those were born on the wrong side of the tracks or those who fell into hard times be it from illness, predatory men in suits, etc and their proverbial boot straps are broken. Besides my greatest fear of misfortune that could sink me into the abyss, I also deal with guilt that I cannot protect my patients from the socioeconomic conditions that causes the violence that led to the trauma or the chronic illness. Please elaborate and give me some solid reasons to cling on to hope.

  7. Newton Finn

    Has there ever been a more elegantly succinct description of the ideal of socialism, its beauty and necessity, than the words of the Preamble to America’s Declaration of Independence? Government is called into existence by the people to ensure that every citizen, equally, enjoys the sacred rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Surely this requires the government to move into the economic arena, where the essential preconditions of those rights are produced and distributed. When will the left give its favored liberal, living construction to the Preamble and thus weaponize it as a patriotic and historic call for the democratic socialism it explicitly praises and implicitly demands?

  8. twonine

    There was a scathing review of the “report” from Mark Blyth in an interview with David Brancaccio on Marketplace this AM. Haven’t found it on line yet.


    The bit about pickup trucks is clearly not meant to be a serious economic critique, but rather cultural red meat for the base. Scare the good ol’ boys into thinking that socialism means having to trade in your manly man F-150 for a effete Prius.

  10. Dr Duh

    I guess it’s too much to ask twitter partisans to be intellectually honest, but that chart comparing wait times is not evidence in favor of medicare for all.

    It compares single payer vs multipayer systems. Seniors in the US multipayer system, even though they receive government paid healthcare, are cross subsidized by the private sector. High paying private patients create the demand for high quality, prompt care in comfortable conditions. To the extent they are able to access it, medium (Medicare) and low (Medicaid) reimbursing government patients can piggyback on this capacity. This works from a business sense as long as they come in below the marginal cost of a new patient and they don’t crowd out higher paying private patients.

    If there are not enough high paying private patients then quality will suffer. How? Fewer amenities, shorter visits, longer waits both to get an appointment and when you are in the office, substitute less well trained providers (PAs and NPs), deal with the single big problem and ignore the ancillary problems or otherwise oversimplify the problem.

    Alternatively, physicians may devote more energy to cash businesses, like botox injections or health spas, or stop taking insurance all together, like many psychiatrists.

    On a societal level these costs are outweighed by the benefits of expanding access to healthcare, but if you are paying for ‘good’ insurance and suddenly find that things have been crapified thay may not be convincing.

  11. Tom Stone

    The earliest date for a consultation with a Neurosurgeon in Sonoma County ( Barring cancellations)
    that accepts medicare is December 10th, as of 2 PM today.
    A bit more than 5 weeks.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      at least there’s a medicaid taking neurosurgeon that actually exists, there.
      after I finally got my hip, i set about trying to take care of the other big problem…my ankle, which contains a pound of screws and plates, and presents itself as walking around on an ennervated bag of gravel.
      Medicaid “provider”(eg: giant corporation who rarely answers the phone) sends a list of ankle guys.
      30 or so.
      Not one of them takes medicaid.
      So I spend some time cold calling every ankle guy in Texas(!!)
      no one takes medicaid.
      Doctor friend suggests that I have an unfortunate chainsaw accident…or fall off a roof or something…but only when I am certain that one of the orthopedic surgeons is on ER rotation.
      Doctor friend is being only partially sarcastic.
      in addition, since my ankle isn’t life threatening(effecting merely the quality of life), medicaid won’t pay for an amputation…a procedure that doesn’t require a specialist, and for which on particularly bad days, I am more than ready.
      and yet, one can hear in the nearest greasy spoon, little old men complaining about how good the poors have it…hanging from the government teat, etc.
      little old men with double hip replacements that they didn’t have to wait 6+ years to obtain, no less.
      The Mythos that’s been built up around “welfare as we know it” is pernicious…and the related shame engineered into it makes it hard to disseminate accurate knowledge about these systems and what it’s really like to be in them.
      It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s a choice, which makes this reality all the more odious.

    2. Wukchumni

      It took me about a month to get an MRI for my knee.

      Initially-they rejected me, as they want you to give up, and not spend some of their money on your insurance coverage…

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