Although he didn't single it out, readers may conclude that it is on his list of outmoded innovations that his "reform conservatives" intend to overcome. He begins his piece by noting Hilary Clinton's campaign announcement then comments inaccurately about progressive Democratic leaders:
"Joe Biden? Jerry Brown? Elizabeth Warren? All fight for Social Security while qualifying for their full checks." (Warren does not turn age 66, and therefore qualify for full benefits, until June.)
The piece continues:
"Democrats today have a geriatric agenda. Equal-pay arguments were avant-garde in 1963. The minimum wage was groundbreaking economic policy in 1938. Democrats propose to increase the payout of a Social Security system created in 1935."
The nature of this argument is more than a bit bizarre. After all, ideas like equality and democracy are pretty old too, would Gerson denounce these also as "geriatric?"
But then we get to the heroes of Gerson's piece. These are people like Senator Marco Rubio and his reform conservative agenda. This agenda accepts the current pattern of inequality, but then offers an expanded income tax credit and payroll tax cuts to help those at the bottom.
How Gerson finds this new is hard to understand. After all, the idea of wage subsidies is more than two centuries old. That isn't an indictment of wage subsidies as a policy, it just means that it is absurd to treat them as new.
The most bizarre part of Gerson's piece is his acceptance of inequality as simply being the work of the market.
"One reason that American institutions are badly in need of modernization is to respond to new economic realities. Large, irreversible economic trends — particularly globalization and the technological revolution — have made it difficult for many Americans to find dignified work sufficient to supporting a family, particularly when they have limited skills and education. Modern capitalism has left some communities in serious need of transitional help — and the transition may last a long time. Some type of redistribution is necessary."
Okay, would we have the same level of inequality if our trade deals had focused on subjecting doctors and lawyers (many of whom are in the one percent) to international competition, instead of autoworkers and textile workers? Would we have the same level of inequality if the Fed didn't act to raise interest rates and slow job creation any time workers started to gain some bargaining power? Would we have the same level of inequality if workers could take violations of labor law into regular court (instead of the National Labor Relations Board) where law-breaking employers would then face real penalties?
How about if we had rules of corporate governance that didn't let CEOs rip off their companies and effectively write themselves outlandish paychecks through their control of corporate boards? What if the Wall Street boys didn't enjoy too big to fail insurance and were subject to the same sort of sales taxes as other sectors of the economy? How about if we didn't have patent monopolies, which raise the price of prescription drugs by one or two orders of magnitude? (Patents date back five centuries, making Social Security look ultra-modern.) And how about if we didn't hand hedge fund and private equity managers billions of dollars a year in special tax breaks, because -- well, they are nice guys?
It is easy to identify a wide range of government policies that have led to the enormous rise in inequality of the last three decades. However Gerson and his reform conservatives don't want anyone to think about these policies. They want to give us a few wage subsidies and tell us to shut up. Yeah, that's new.