That's the question that readers will inevitably ask after reading his column complaining that ideology is responsible for the government shutdown. Samuelson tells readers:
"A crucial difference between interest-group and ideological politics is what motivates people to join. For interest-group politics, the reason is simple — self-interest. People enjoy directly the fruits of their political involvement. Farmers get subsidies; Social Security recipients, checks. By contrast, the foot soldiers of ideological causes don’t usually enlist for tangible benefits for themselves but for a sense that they’re making the world a better place. Their reward is feeling good about themselves.
"I’ve called this “the politics of self-esteem” — and it profoundly alters politics. For starters, it suggests that you don’t just disagree with your adversaries; you also look down on them as morally inferior."
Let's see, does Robert Samuelson get direct tangible benefits when he harangues readers about the need to cut Social Security and Medicare because the country is projected to face a growing debt to GDP ratio in a decade or does this just make him feel good about himself?
That's a tough one that we can leave folks to spend the day contemplating. But just to remind everyone of the facts of the situation, the projections, which incorporate little of the recent slowdown in health care costs (in other words, if the slowdown continues, we don't have a problem) imply that the deficit will be somewhat larger in a decade than is consistent with a stable debt to GDP ratio.
If that projection proves accurate, there have been many times in the past in which the country has made far larger adjustments in its budget to deal with deficits (e.g. the Bush deficit reduction package in 1990 and the Clinton package in 1993), so it is hard to see why anyone would get so bent out of shape about the issue now. Since we are losing close to $1 trillion a year in lost output now and seeing millions of people have their lives ruined due to unemployment or underemployment, Samuelson's deficit concerns seem a bit like obsessing over the need to repaint the kitchen when the house is on fire.
So, is he an ideologue?