[T]he point is that the actual deficit and debt situation is totally different from the situation that obtained at the time the Simpson-Bowles Crew was first unleashed upon the universe, and yet the political dialogue on the subject doesn't seem to have changed at all.
This is the point at which, I think, it would be helpful to stop being polite (in the manner of a think tank PDF) and start getting real (in the manner of a blog). The dialogue hasn't changed because the elites steering the discourse don't care, even slightly, about deficits or debt.
What they care about is reducing the federal government's fiscal commitment to bolstering the living standards of elderly people. The Powers That Be hate Social Security and always will because its a program whose entire purpose is to pay people money to not work. That's not a perverse consequence of Social Security. It's not a contentious partisan claim about Social Security. It's not a dubious interpretation of what Social Security is all about. That's the point. It's to give people money so they can retire with dignity. "Retire" being a fancy word for "not working". You're never ever going to persuade business leaders to stop agitating for cuts in a program that has this feature. Business leaders want people to work! At a minimum, if people are hoping to not work business leaders are going to want people to save (i.e., loan funds to business leaders) in order to achieve that purpose. Taxing people who are working in order to pay money so that people can enjoy retired life in peace is the antithesis of everything business elites want out of public policy.
That's pretty shrill, especially for Matt, but it's hard to disagree with him.
The movers and shakers of the corporate world have to have known years ago that a better employment situation would be good for their bottom line - with more people earning and spending money, they'd be able to sell more stuff and make more money - but they'd rather have millions of unemployed workers waiting to fill any vacancy, to keep the fear of God and unemployment in the hearts of the workers they've got. Controlling the proles means more to them than more money, and they don't want a rising tide that raises all boats if it means that the workers get uppity; they just want a tide that raises just their own boats - and they've got it.
And it's hard to see their continued attack on Social Security and Medicare as anything else but another variant on that, given that we've got our debt under control, at least for the next decade or so. They don't want the proles having a decent retirement to look forward to: a worker who thinks, "after I turn 66, I can live off my Social Security," is a worker who has some modest ability to tell his employer to fuck off, if 66 isn't that far away. And of course if the Social Security retirement age is raised to 70, that's a few more years' worth of workers who will join the fierce competition for the handful of available jobs.
It'll mean that old people will have less money, and be able to buy less stuff, which will be bad for the corporate bottom line, but it'll help even more to keep the proles in line.
As Matt concludes:
We've done things to reduce budget deficits, but we haven't really acted to make it tougher for people to retire. But people don't like to say they want to make it hard for people to retire so instead they talk about "the deficit" and they're not going to stop.