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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tom Friedman says we need to kill grandma to save junior

by digby

Trudy Lieberman and CJR has a typically sharp take on the latest from Tom Friedman, catching something quite appalling from the extremely wealthy so-called opinion leader. First he glibly goes on about the need for deficit reduction and chastises both parties for failing to enact the needed cuts to the budget. But then there was this:
Friedman slapped the GOP because they have called for cuts in things we need to invest more in, such as education and infrastructure, “while leaving largely untouched things we need to reduce, like entitlements and defense spending.” The subtext seems to be that he wants to cut Social Security benefits, but instead he attacked the almost 1.7 million elderly in nursing homes—some of the frailest, neediest people in America. Friedman argues:
A country that invests more in its elderly than its youth, more in nursing homes than schools, will neither invent the future nor own it.

That stopped me cold. For one thing, the U.S. spends more on elementary and secondary education than it does on nursing homes. A spokesman for the Department of Education told me the amount spent on elementary and secondary education for the 2007-2008 school year was $495 billion; for nursing homes, national expenditures in 2008 totaled $138 billion, according to a document called “Health United States, 2010” from the CDC. That’s not even close.

Here’s a more important question the press and the public should ask: What will happen to the elderly if we reduce spending on nursing homes, as Friedman hints is necessary?
Well, mostly they're moving in with family and someone (mom probably) will have to quit work and stay home to do 24 hr nursing duties rather than pay for the kids' college or save for retirement. Or, we could just let these people die.

The elderly who find themselves in nursing homes aren't getting a luxury vacation. Believe me they aren't aren't like the nice hotels that Friedman stays in and most of the inhabitants aren't exactly thrilled to be there. But they need skilled nursing care on a level that the average family simply doesn't have the resources to provide. And they are already grossly, hideously inadequate. The idea of cutting funding for them so that we can pay for their grandkids' future in a country that boasts millionaires paying tax rates that are lower than they've been since the 50s makes me literally sick to my stomach. Not everyone was wily enough to marry a multi-millionaire as Friedman was so these questions are just a little bit less abstract to most of them.

Lieberman draws a picture of what the youth of today might just be facing down the road if all these people who think that "sending messages" to markets by cutting basic services is a responsible way to run an economy have their way:

Imagine a jobless sixty-nine-year-old waiting for a full Social Security benefit at age seventy while digging into his pocket to pay for his ninety-two-year-old mother in a nursing home—plus a large share of his own medical expenses if Medicare morphs into a voucher plan...

Nearly fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy sent a message to Congress, quoting the historian Arnold Toynbee: “A Society’s quality and durability can best be measured ‘by the respect and care given its elderly citizens.’” Tom Friedman seems to argue otherwise.

And by the way, it's not like all these deficit hawks are exactly helping the young either.