Thursday, May 05, 2005


A Lesson In Semantics, which is paid for by the archconservative Annenberg (Reader's Digest) people, is claiming the latest Social Security debate ("Are there really benefit cuts?") is about semantics more than facts. Here's what Bob Somerby has to say about that:

“Which side is right?” Jackson [of] asks. But in a real semantic dispute, that’s rarely the most helpful question to ask. Except in highly technical areas, we rarely have hard-and-fast rules prescribing the names we get to call things. For that reason, the best way to resolve a semantic dispute is to look for ways to describe the facts while avoiding the terms that are in dispute. Jackson misunderstands this point in his largely unhelpful review. Who is “right” in this dispute? For our money, the claim that benefits would “increase” under Bush is far more misleading than the claim that they’re “cut.” But that is always a matter of judgement. Again, here are the facts that we would lay out to help people see the shape of Bush’s proposal. Note that you don’t have to use the disputed word “cut” to describe the basic facts that are involved here: First: At present, middle-income retirees get a check from SS that equals roughly 36 percent of their previous income. Everyone agrees on that fact. Second: Under the Pozen plan, such retirees would instead get 26 percent of their pre-retirement income. Everyone agrees on that, too. Third: The Pozen plan only resolves about 70 percent of the system’s projected solvency problem. (Everyone agrees on that.) If Bush wants to fix the solvency problem without adding new revenue, he may have to set benefit levels even lower than he has said—at perhaps 20 percent. Conclusion? At present, middle-income earners get about 36 percent of their income replaced by SS when they retire. Under Bush’s plan, that may be 20 percent instead. Just state those facts to the average person. Trust us: You won’t have to say the word “cuts.” And they won’t think of this as an “increase.” Are Democrats right when they use the word “cuts?” Are Bush flacks right when they use the word “increase?” You don’t have to use either word to lay out the basic facts of this case—facts which really aren’t in dispute. The best way to settle semantic disputes is to avoid the words that are under dispute. Democrats, just give people the facts we have listed. Their imaginations will take them from there.
My own opinion is that "cuts" describes exactly what happens to the benefits. But the Republicans are playing the silly word games they always do in order to hide their true intentions. (You know, like when they invent the phrase "nuclear option" and then lie and say that the Democrats did?)

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