Author: Taunya Banks


The Entitlements Debate: Are Social Compacts Possible in Heterogeneous Countries?

As we become a less “white” country will we also become less generous and less caring of our fellow citizens? In other words, is it possible to have a meaningful social compact in an increasingly heterogeneous country? This is at the core of an ongoing exchange between conservative New York Times columnist and former senior editor at The Atlantic, Ross Douthat and Salon’s Joan Walsh. 

Last week Douthat wrote a column in the New York Times discussing the political wisdom of cutting the deficit by increasing taxes.  Among other things he said: “Historically, the most successful welfare states (think Scandinavia) have depended on ethnic solidarity to sustain their tax-and-transfer programs. But the working-age America of the future will be far more diverse than the retired cohort it’s laboring to support. Asking a population that’s increasingly brown and beige to accept punishing tax rates while white seniors receive roughly $3 in Medicare benefits for every dollar they paid in (the projected ratio in the 2030s) promises to polarize the country along racial as well as generational lines.” 

Joan Walsh responded in Salon accusing Douthat of “racial paranoia” by suggesting that “‘brown and beige’ people will abandon white seniors to poverty” thus turning on its head the more conventional argument that “that white Americans have a stake in the education and employment prospects of non-white young people, because in the more diverse 21st century America, those black, Latino and Asian young people will increasingly be footing the bill for Social Security.”  

Today Douthat replied

What do you think?


Health Care Blues

Two things happened over the past few days that caused me to think more seriously about health care reform.  First, my daughter, a physician, brought me a copy of a documentary film, Vanishing Oath, by physician-filmmaker Ryan Flesher.  The film looks at the lives of health care providers under the current health care system and documents the abandonment of the profession by seemingly good and dedicated physicians.  The film is well-balanced but offers no suggestions about change, focusing only on the likely doctor shortage.  I recommend it to anyone teaching a law and health care policy course.

Second, today I spent almost an hour on the telephone with Social Security and the Medicare Coordinator of Benefits trying to determine why I had been enrolled in both Medicare part A and B since I am still working and covered by my University’s health care plan.  I did not want to be charged the $115.40 monthly premium for Medicare part B.  Even though it was their mistake I still had to send a written request to Social Security asking to be dropped from Medicare part B.

Although I support universal health care provided by a single payer, this experience gives me pause.  Do I really want to government in control of health care access?  An Associated Press-GfK poll found that public support for comprehensive health is dropping.  My concern is timely given the ongoing and fractious debate in Congress about the budget, including discussions about reform of Medicare.  Further, on Wednesday President Obama is expected to propose modest changes in Medicare and Medicaid.  (Please comment on his proposal.)

I agree with Princeton economist Paul Krugman that privatizing Medicare is problematic.  I prefer to spend that hour on the telephone talking with a kind public servant.  But I also realize that cost controls are necessary if the program in some form is to be preserved.

I a relatively affluent educated American am fearful about my access to health care and physicians in retirement and the future of Medicare.  Barring some health catastrophe, I will survive, but I cannot image what the majority of Americans will do if needed reform substantially undercuts these benefits.


Technology Musings

Recently the New York Times carried a front page story about an eighth grade girl who foolishly took a nude picture of herself with her cell phone and sent it to a fickle boy – sexting. The couple broke up but her picture circulated among her schools mates with a text message “Ho Alert” added by a frenemy.  In less than 24 hours, “hundreds, possibly thousands, of students had received her photo and forwarded it. In short order, students would be handcuffed and humiliated, parents mortified and lessons learned at a harsh cost.”  The three students who set off the “viral outbreak” were charged with disseminating child pornography, a Class C felony.

The story struck a nerve, not only with the affected community, but with the Times’ readers as well.  Stories about the misuse and dangers of technology provide us with opportunities to educate our students, and us. In a Washington State sexting incident, for example, the teen charged had to prepared a public service statement warning other teens about sexting to avoid harsher criminal penalties.  But the teen’s nude photo is still floating around.  Information has permanence on the internet.

Few of us appreciate how readily obtainable our personal information is on the internet.   Read More