Janine Jackson: The announcement that one agenda item for the final presidential debate would be “debt and entitlements” was not surprising. “Debt and entitlements,” linked together that way, are always on corporate media’s agenda, but though the terms are tossed around a lot, they’re rarely unpacked or explained. In place of facts, we get fear. The Chicago Tribune said if they could inject one debate question, it would be: “Secretary Clinton, Mr. Trump, you have children. Why aren’t you scared?”
Well, Americans face many serious challenges. Are runaway national “debt and entitlements” one of them? We’re joined now by Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, where you’ll find his blog, Beat the Press, and he’s the author of, most recently, Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Dean Baker.
Dean Baker: Thanks a lot for having me on.
I believe I have been asking you to break down media confusion on this issue for at least a decade now. It’s clearly a very useful confusion for some people, and it’s persistent. First of all, the word “entitlement,” if we can start with that — at this point it’s basically a pejorative, and almost a thought-stopper. What are people really talking about when they talk about “entitlements,” or specifically about “cutting runaway entitlements”?
Yeah. The use of the word itself, as you say, is a pejorative, and I gather most of the people using it know that it’s not actually a pejorative. It’s to avoid saying “Social Security and Medicare.” That’s long and short. Because those are the bulk of the items that fill that entitlement category.
Entitlements is a budget term. Budget wonks in Washington all know what it is, and probably are being very neutral when they use it. But when the larger public hears that, and certainly when you’re talking about a national debate of…