NYT’s Kristof Spreads Wall Street Austerian’s FUD

New York Times readers should know that a study columnist Nicholas Kristof cited to cast doubt on Bernie Sanders’ health care plan was funded by a Wall Street billionaire who has made it his mission to strip away the social safety net for middle class Americans.

Kristof’s February 4 column “2 Questions for Bernie Sanders” is a textbook case of FUD—Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt—designed, it seems, to scare people into abandoning dreams of universal health care, just as he says he has done.  Kristof writes,

On [Sanders’ health care plan], frankly, I’m skeptical. I’m for Medicare for All, but it won’t happen. And if it did, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan group, found that Sanders’s sums come up short by $3 trillion over a decade.

The study Kristof cites includes a philosophical section—prime FUD material—on the limits of taxing high earners and dismisses the idea of raising the tax on capital gains entirely, but otherwise generally pits one set of economists against another.

So what are those of us without degrees in economics to do?  I mean, golly, the New York Times cited this study, and Mr. Kristof even said that it was done by “a bipartisan group!”

The only problem is that the “bipartisanship” of the think tank that wrote the study, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, is the same Wall Street-dominated version of bipartisanship that Sanders’ supporters are railing against.  According to the Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch, CRFB receives “considerable funding” from a man named Peter Peterson, whom the Los Angeles Times in 2012 called the most influential billionaire in politics, surpassing the Koch Brothers.  SourceWatch reports that Peterson is a co-founder of a private equity fund who profited from the carried interest loophole that allowed fund managers to be taxed at 15% rather than 35%, and his partner at the fund in 2010 compared Obama’s proposal to raise the tax to “Hitler invading Poland.”

20160206 - Peter Peterson
Peter Peterson

Now, when we need analysis of a subject this complex, we generally have to turn to either a think tank—which must get its funding from somewhere—or a university.  While college professors have their worldviews like everyone, their funding doesn’t depend on their producing analysis that is consistent with their benefactors’ policy preferences.

The LA Times has this to say about the views and reach of the CRFB’s benefactor:

[Peterson] isn’t content merely to express concern about the federal deficit. His particular targets are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which he calls “entitlement” programs and which he wants to cut back in a manner that would strike deeply at the middle class. […] [A]lmost every organization promoting the grand fiscal bargain in which those programs will be on the table has accepted, somewhere and somehow, money from Pete Peterson.

What CFRB’s study doesn’t discuss is whether the Sanders plan would be a better deal for the consumer than private insurance.  I am left to wonder whether that might have been an inconvenient truth for Mr. Peterson.

I’m not an expert on health policy (though these folks are), so all I can do is try to find the best information out there by making a critical assessment of the source.  Mr. Kristof has either been careless in that respect, or he’s deliberately trying to obfuscate something.  Meanwhile, in Canada, in the United Kingdom, in Germany, in Japan, and every other developed country, they manage to overcome the reported unfeasibility of capital gains and estate taxes and make universal health care a reality.

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt, indeed.

20160206 - Bernie Health Care.jpg

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