The Problem with Rescuers

By: hawkgrrrl
November 27, 2012

We’ve been re-watching the TV series Smallville with our kids. It’s the story of Clark Kent as he grows from Kansas farm boy to city-dwelling superhero.  It’s a drama full of heroes (rescuers), victims yelling “Save me!,” and villains (persecutors).  Fortunately, at least every once in a while a villain will act like a rescuer or a victim, and a victim will become a villain.  Otherwise, it would be totally insufferable.  On the show, the persecutors (usually Luthors) feel that the ends justify the means.  The victims often blame all their woes on circumstances or people outside their control.  And there’s Superman, assigning people the role of victim or persecutor and acting all self-righteous about his judgments.

When Judas chastised Jesus because the woman had anointed him with expensive oil, suggesting that instead that money could have been used to help the poor, Jesus said:  ”The poor ye have always with you,” implying that his own death was imminent.  But he was also implying that poverty would never be cured.  No matter how much you do to make things better, it’s a bottomless pit.  It’s never enough.

I have likewise felt this sense of frustration in talking with my liberal friends, fellow feminists or in discussing race.  It seems that no matter how much progress society makes, it’s never enough; the pit of anger doesn’t really shrink.  Why is that?  If you compare societies with extremely serious injustices (like 25% of men admitting to rape in South Africa, or 100% of women having been sexually harassed in Egypt, or an entire country, Iran, denying that homosexuals exist), much worse than those in the United States, the level of anger is often lower.  This could be due to oppression.  Or maybe it’s because the need is so great that pragmatism rules.  Maybe it’s a lack of hope or empowerment to make meaningful changes.  Maybe those with the most power to make changes (in less repressed countries) can speak the loudest because they are the least marginalized.

Recently, Paul Ryan’s econ professor was quoted in the New York Times.  He was talking about economic philosophy and the focus of the left on lifting people out of poverty and otherwise advocating for victims.  He said, “You can’t represent a group of the downtrodden unless you have a permanent group of downtrodden to represent.”  His point is my main concern with liberal politics and why they have not won me over.  (Reminder:  I’m a political independent; the Republicans haven’t won me over either).

File:The drama triangle large.tiffThe Karpman Triangle is a psychological drama that people engage in that was first observed by Dr. Stephen Karpman in therapy sessions in 1968.  Identifying the behaviours in the drama triangle is part of helping people let go of these invented dramas and take control of their lives in a positive way.  The model shows that people tend to take on one of the following roles in life situations:

  • Victim.  Victims point out their lack of power in a situation, and they usually identify a person or group of people who are preventing them from having power.  Often the person who assumes the role of victim uses this position to manipulate rescuers into giving them what they need while perpetuating the myth of their victimhood.  Eventually, though, they often turn on their rescuers, and the rescuer becomes a victim too.  In the mind of the victim, s/he is blameless, no matter what.
  • Persecutor.  This is the person who is pressuring or coercing the victim in some way, limiting the victim’s choices, or keeping them in a disempowered position (according to the rescuer and victim).  Often the persecutor feels that s/he has a valid complaint against the mistreatment they are receiving from the victim and the rescuer.  In this way, the “persecutor” often becomes a “victim” over time.  In the mind of the persecutor, s/he is right.
  • Rescuer.  The person derives an ego boost from helping the underdog, the victims s/he identifies as needing help or advocacy, and fighting against persecutors, those people the rescuer identifies as causing harm to the victim.  The rescuer has a surface motive of resolving the problem, and appears to make great efforts to solve it, but also has a hidden motive to not succeed, or to succeed in a way that they benefit. For example, they may feel a sense of status as a “rescuer”, or enjoy having someone dependent or trusting of them – and act in a way that ostensibly seems to be trying to help, but at a deeper level relies upon the victim’s continuing dependence on them. If a rescuer finds a willing victim, codependency (a self-sustaining dysfunctional relationship) results.  In the mind of the rescuer, s/he is a good person, doing good deeds.

Rescuers create victims and persecutors to play their game.

What about real victims?  Obviously, there are real victims out there.  Even though we’ve largely closed the wage gap within like positions, it’s still true that women are disproportionately hurt by maternity leaves, lack of flexible choices, a glass ceiling at the highest levels, and career choices that often land them in the least lucrative fields.  The progress we’ve made, and it is great, is still not enough to erase some of the inequity of opportunity.  Men, especially white males, feel marginalized by their loss of status (or the elevation of women to more equal footing).

The problem with seeing people as victims is that being a victim by definition means you don’t have power or control over your circumstances.  As soon as you see yourself as a victim, you lose your ability to not be a victim.  It becomes self-perpetuating.

How do we break the cycle?  It depends on where you are on the cycle.  If you are a rescuer, you have to let go of the heroic ego boost and help people help themselves.  Promote solutions that create equality of opportunity, not outcomes.  Give people power by giving them opportunity. Don’t take away their power by manipulating outcomes.  As the saying goes, if you give a man a fish he eats today; if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.  Unless the river is polluted, in which case go get those bastards who run big business.  Just kidding about that last part.

If you see yourself as a victim, you have to focus on what is in your control and begin to make your own choices to improve your situation.  Several years ago, we had a representative from a large national charity come to our senior leadership team to promote their charity’s efforts and enlist our company in gathering donations from employees.  They brought in a woman who was a recipient of their program.  She talked about how a few years earlier she had a live-in boyfriend who got her hooked on drugs and left her pregnant with his child, no education, and no means to support herself.  She relied on the money she received from this charity in the way most people rely on their paycheck.  In her words, because of everything that had happened to her, she had no choices and no power in her life.  She was a total victim.  A different charity came in and explained that their goal was to help women who had left domestic abuse situations.  They provided a temporary shelter, job counseling, professional clothing, and child care while women did job interviews so that they could get their own apartment and support their families.  Which charity do you think our company agreed to support?

As for persecutors, people don’t generally engage in the Karpman Triangle as a persecutor, but rather the rescuers and victims cast them in this role.  A few who have been cast in the role of persecutor that I can think of off the top of my head:  corporations, white males, the patriarchal leadership of the church, the 1%.  So what is a persecutor to do to make the situation better?  I suggest examining their privilege and then tackling areas to increase equality of opportunity.  The privileged go wrong when they retrench and protect their power.  Power is only useful to society when it is used toward a meritocratic end.  Of course, Lex Luthor doesn’t exactly take this advice.  But we all know how that story ends.


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39 Responses to The Problem with Rescuers

  1. Jenn on November 27, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    I agree that claiming victimhood does no one any favors. That said, I don’t equate poverty with victimhood. Yes, they often overlap, but not consistently enough for me to say we don’t need to help the poor.
    My husband taught high school in an, um, “econimically disadvantaged” area, and we got to see first hand how damaging overuse of the victim card can be. If a big brother fails out of school and his society tells him it wasn’t his fault because the system was against him… is the little brother going to see any reason to try to succeed?
    Whether or not you are a victim (and some folks legitimately are), focusing the blame on someone else passes over your ability to DO anything about it. Heck, I had that conversation with an employee on my team just yesterday- “yes, I get that the sales team screwed up. and your former manager screwed up. and the client screwed up. But the only thing we have control over is our team, so tell me, what would WE do differently next time to prevent this issue from happening?”

    However, like I said, not all poor are stuck in the victim cycle. It’s often not a permanent state, either.
    By placing the blame for poverty on the poor (whether it’s fair or not), we are doing just what my previous paragraph says to avoid: saying we have no control over the situation- we let society become the victim of the poor’s “victimhood”.
    We can’t convince all the “victims” to own up to their situations and fix their own lives. What we CAN do is to place well-thought out programs (and no, I don’t claim all entitlement programs are currently well-thought out- I’m not crazy) that provide them, or at the very least, provide their CHILDREN with the opportunities and incentives to break the cycle.

    I think my whole problem with your post is the assumption about other people being the victim.
    If your post really is just a message about how we as individuals need to not see ourselves as victims, I agree wholeheartedly, but also think you may be preaching to the choir.
    If it’s more of a “what’s wrong with all those people who think they are victims”… then I don’t see it as productive, since we have no control over whether or not people view themselves as victims.

    Also, as a liberal, I can assure you I am pissed off and loud about the horrific injustices abroad you mentioned. But they are less in my sphere of control. As someone who was once “poor” but not a victim, and is now “rich” and chooses to be a taxpayer without feeling like a victim, I realize that whether or not someone is stuck in the victim cycle is much more nuanced than suggested in the “poor people are just victims, entitlement programs just do them a disservice” argument.

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  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on November 27, 2012 at 7:41 AM

    Well said Hawk. Well said.

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  3. hawkgrrrl on November 27, 2012 at 8:11 AM

    Jenn, looks like we’re in agreement. My view is everyone should act like they are 100% accountable, even though nobody is. We can only focus on whatever we can do. Victims and rescuers are two sides of the same coin. The only real way out is to focus on what we can do. I’m not opposed to charity at all, just to disempowering people.

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  4. Casey on November 27, 2012 at 8:13 AM

    “If you are a rescuer, you have to let go of the heroic ego boost and help people help themselves. Promote solutions that create equality of opportunity, not outcomes. Give people power by giving them opportunity. Don’t take away their power by manipulating outcomes.”

    It seems to me that this statement is at the heart of many criticisms of liberal policies–the idea that by attempting to control outcomes, liberals unintentionally (or perhaps very intentionally) promote victimhood for self-serving ends. I remember a T&S post a few months back that made that very argument in more aggressive terms, essentially that liberals use government as a means of assuaging some kind of collective guilt (in terms of this post, by casting themselves as Rescuers). And as far as that ever applies, it might be a valid criticism.

    However, at the policy level I disagree that an opportunity/outcome binary is really even relevant. Liberals and Conservatives both use policy to promote desired outcomes, and both frame their preferred policies as opportunities for the beneficiaries. Suggesting that any side prefers outcomes or opportunities misses the point of politics. You can argue that certain policies are more effective, more equitable, more just, or more (insert preferred criterion here), but you can’t escape that outcomes matter to everybody, even if they disagree on what those should be.

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  5. Mike S on November 27, 2012 at 8:16 AM

    This is a good post. It is a very complex topic that is hard to reduce to some simple “take-away” message. A few thoughts that popped into my head, especially after the discussions in this recent election period:

    1) People criticize various social programs because “people take advantage of them”. It seems it’s always the poor or the “victim” that they are talking about. Yet nearly 100% of the other end of the spectrum take advantage of every possible break too. It is ironic for someone who has an army of accountants to squeeze every last penny out of the governments hands to mock a “victim” person who might be doing the same.

    2) Mother Theresa: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.”

    3) I happened to read this post just after one on Times & Seasons which talks about a contrast between poor and extravagance. The link to this post is only tangential, but talking about “victims” as if they should help themselves while we build $3 billion malls really disturbs me.

    4) When looking at any given program – do we cut the program because of the one person who takes advantage of it? Or do we keep it because of the one person it helps?

    Just a few random thoughts. I like the post and don’t have a great answer.

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  6. SilverRain on November 27, 2012 at 12:02 PM

    Mike S—Your #4 is a false dichotomy. How about fixing the program to do what we can to encourage self-sufficiency instead of leaving it wide open for those who are simply taking advantage?

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  7. Mike S on November 27, 2012 at 12:15 PM


    I agree. But we live in a grey world. In this last election cycle, I heard friends and others say we should “get rid of” (welfare / Medicaid / fill in the blank) because they saw an article about someone who was getting benefits yet had an iPhone or a nice care or whatever.

    Cases like this will absolutely exist. In the ideal world, we could set up programs who help everyone with the exact amount of help they need, and only those people. But this is an imperfect world. Given that we are going to err one way or another, which way will it be. Do we continue a program as best we can, knowing that someone will take advantage? Or do we cut the program to eliminate that, at the risk of harming those who would truly benefit?

    We do the same thing all over the place. Our legal system is designed to let 10 guilty people go free rather than erroneously convict one innocent person. In medicine, there are an expected number of normal appendixes removed, and if the number gets too low, you are at risk of ignoring something that might rupture and be far worse.

    So, back to my comment. No programs are perfect. It seems the more conservative wing would cut programs because of the one person (figuratively) that is taking advantage, so they can cut taxes and keep more money. It seems the more liberal wing would rather preserve programs because of the one person (figuratively) who might really benefit. It’s not black and white. It’s not a pure dichotomy. It was a literary device used to make a point. I apologize it wasn’t clear enough.

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  8. Molly on November 27, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    This is a great post and says some really important things. I was struck at the beginning where it talks about how, no matter how much better society gets, some people are still mad. I think there are a few reasons for this.

    First, some people make a living through being mad. Al Sharpton comes to mind. These people are those who benefit from the existence of a victim class.

    Second, although the laws are there for equality, people’s hearts are still prejudiced. Therefore, inequality still exists. Sometimes it’s subtle, like assuming a woman will need more time off than a man due to having sick kids. Sometimes it’s blatant. When I worked in Alabama in a temp agency, a man told me not to send over any black applicants, because an incompetent black secretary brought a discrimination lawsuit against him when he fired her. (Incidentally, if we take this story at face value, it wasn’t her fault she was fired; she was a victim.)

    I also think fighting for rights comes with the beginning of liberation. In the U.S., being a woman/gay/black/Mormon is not against the law, so any time there is discrimination or even the possibility thereof, we can protest it. But homosexual in Iran? Let’s have a stoning party! When (if) the government there loosens up a little and a gay/lesbian is faced with 6 months in jail instead of death, it would be far less scary and far more rewarding to come out and demand rights. The women’s movement can look at Rosie the Riveter for its own loosening of gender roles, I think.

    In an ideal world, we would work for the end of discrimination, one excuse for victimhood, but celebrate the milestones. It was disheartening to me when the new missionary ages came out and the immediate response from some was complaining that the ages are still not equal. True, but let’s celebrate the movement in the right direction instead of bellyaching about our failure to arrive at perfection.

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  9. Howard on November 27, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    Great post! Thanks for doing it!

    We do people a disservice when we pay or otherwise encourage them not to work when work is available for them. We also do people a disservice when we allow them to die of malnutrition, thirst or easily curable disease. The role of government should be to cultivate jobs and act as a safety net in their absence and as a safety net for people who are truly unable to work. The role of churches should be to care for the needy.

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  10. Geoff - A on November 27, 2012 at 5:56 PM

    Hopefully each of us can experience the struggles of poverty, and then lift ourselves from that situation. How far depends on the decisions we make, and opportunities, and knowledge, we have.

    I’m not sure how many of the needy, that we might classify as victims, would see themselves as victims, which would undermine the whole argument, wouldn’t it?

    If you don’t accept a label, does the point of the post still hold?

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  11. Douglas on November 27, 2012 at 6:13 PM

    #3 – excellent OP, and the inclusion of one of Jay Ward’s best creations, one Dudley-Do-Right. Virtually every one of my Mexican acquaintances, including my daughter-in-law, nicknames me “Dudley”. I usually respond that they may thank Gamma Productions, S.A.
    The analogy that I use is being in a rowboat on a large lake (like Apopka near where I grew up) and a thunderstorm rolls in. Do I row like it’s all on me or pray as if it’s all in God’s hands? Answer: both, even if the prayer comes in-between huffs.
    Mike S, with all the shilling you perform for the DNC, I marvel how you find time to continue a medical practice. You must avail us of your proficiency in time management. To answer WHY decry inefficiency and/or corruption in Government social programs, it’s precisely because they are funded with tax and bond monies forcibly extracted via the political and bureaucratic process by “536 tyrants 2700 miles away” (paraphrasing the fictional Benjamin Martin of the “Patriot”). I don’t necessarily damn the welfare cheats (though their misdeeds are indeed damnable) as much as I lambaste the deluded and soft-headed fools that measure their good feeling by how generous they are with other people’s money.
    Still, an even greater act of charity is not to merely part with one’s substance but to mentor those that need it so they can fend for themselves. The former you can accomplish by writing a check – the latter you must give of yourself.

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  12. Jenn on November 27, 2012 at 6:16 PM

    “To answer WHY decry inefficiency and/or corruption in Government social programs, it’s precisely because they are funded with tax and bond monies forcibly extracted via the political and bureaucratic process by “536 tyrants 2700 miles away” (paraphrasing the fictional Benjamin Martin of the “Patriot”).”

    …speaking of feeling like a victim…

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  13. Howard on November 27, 2012 at 6:23 PM

    As Jenn points out there is competition for victimhood on both sides of the aisle.

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  14. Hawkgrrrl on November 27, 2012 at 6:43 PM

    Geoff, let’s take your question to a real life example. Remember that the post is about rescuers, who see others as victims, not people who self identify as victims. There are plenty of feminists out there who are absolutely convinced that any woman who stays in the church is a victim and behaving against her own interests. If you engage in this kind of a discussion, it becomes clear that such a person’s anger against the offending institution is a bottomless pit. They have crossed over from advocating for victims (marginalized women, plenty of whom didn’t ask for their advocacy) to revenge against the supposed perpetrator. To me, that’s the problem with rescuing. Likewise, engaging in class warfare rather than improving the economy rationally. This emotional rescuism is counter productive.

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  15. Jenn on November 27, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    Hm, I think I placed the emphasis wrong while reading the post. I saw a bit of both- don’t see yourself as a victim (in lines like “As soon as you see yourself as a victim, you lose your ability to not be a victim.”), and don’t place others as victims either where “the cause” of righting the wrongs for the victim is more important than the victim themselves. Both are fair points.

    As a liberal, I don’t know that I’ve ever thought “oh man, those people are victims I need to save”. I definitely TRY to think instead (and hopefully succeed at least some of the time) “well, the problem affecting society, which in turn affects me, is ___ and within my sphere of influence, I can ___ to respond”.
    It’s actually much more selfish than the “rescuer” problem you speak of. I want to live in a society that works a certain way, and I’m content using my means to meet that end. I just happen to see the most effective way of doing sometimes involves the government, and will for the foreseeable future until we fix some bigger problems in our society as a whole.

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  16. Howard on November 27, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    “…the post is about rescuers, who see others as victims…” This is the premise of the Occupy Movement and labor unions.

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  17. Jenn on November 27, 2012 at 7:00 PM

    Hm, maybe someone should write a followup post about not only labeling others as victims, but also labeling others as “rescuers” and making assumptions about their intentions.

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  18. hawkgrrrl on November 28, 2012 at 3:30 AM

    I have to say that I don’t think all liberals or all feminists or all any group of people are rescuers. Or victims. Rather, some individuals have an unproductive pattern to deal with problems. Society trying to solve problems through governmental means isn’t the same thing as being a rescuer. There are rational reasons for a variety of social programs.

    Rescuing is about an individual losing objectivity, not solving problems rationally.

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  19. Howard on November 28, 2012 at 6:16 AM

    The drama triangle is the basis of psychological games which by definition are played subconsciously by people who are trying (dysfunctionally) to get attention and get their needs met. When these games are played consciously they become manipulations this is common in the political arena where leaders manipulate the unsuspecting masses and in dramatic entertainment where writers manipulate the emotions of the audience much to their delight!

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  20. John Roberts on November 28, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    Somewhat off topic:

    “Otherwise, it would be totally insufferable.”

    Delete the “Otherwise”, and I agree with you.

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  21. anonlds on November 28, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    I would like the post better if there was some sort of acknowledgement that there are legitimate victims and that blaming the victims generally isn’t productive.

    I think the church tends to blame victims too much. If someone stops coming to church because they have no friends, we say to them “Stop being the victim and stop choosing to be offended.”

    Maybe them leaving and finding friends somewhere else is their way of no longer being the victim. Maybe they haven’t “chosen to be offended”, but are instead proactively choosing to find a place they can fit in.

    Maybe we should stop worrying about who is a victim and just decide that every has unmet needs and try to fill them as best we can. Maybe that was the message Jesus was trying to confir with his “The poor will always be with you.” and not a message that you might as well give up, because the problem is unsolvable. maybe poor in finances, is less important than taking care of the poor in spirit which allowing the woman to serve helped alleviate.

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  22. Howard on November 28, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    Maybe we should stop worrying about who is a victim and just decide that every has unmet needs and try to fill them as best we can. Well, when you study the dynamics of the triangle it becomes obvious that subconscious rescuers generally end up as victims (no good deed goes unpunished) typically because they need to be needed far more than they are actually helping. Conscious rescuers can often avoid this particularly when conducting a genuine rescue (firemen at the scene of an accident) so consciousness raising on this topic can eliminate a lot of drama, improve rescues and reduce political arguing.

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  23. Mike S on November 28, 2012 at 12:50 PM

    #11 Douglas: Mike S, with all the shilling you perform for the DNC, I marvel how you find time to continue a medical practice. You must avail us of your proficiency in time management.

    I don’t necessarily “shill” for the DNC, but I will tell you what makes me tick:

    - The 47% that Romney denigrated – they are my patients. They are people I see day in and day out who might be on a government program, who might need a little help. There is always one or two here and there who you wonder why they don’t get out and do something productive, but for the most part, they are hard-working people who had a bit of bad luck.

    - I am sick of insurance company CEOs who get stock options and bonuses and salaries in the tens of millions to billions and who DON’T PROVIDE A SINGLE MEDICAL SERVICE to anyone. They suck money out of the system by denying care to anyone they can on technicalities.

    - I think Romney’s plan to further decrease our already historically low tax rates even further on the rich (and that includes me). Our country has major problems. We will necessarily need to cut programs. But cutting programs and also cutting taxes on the rich basically smacks of balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. If the people WITH are willing to pay a bit more, then perhaps the people WITHOUT are willing to accept a bit of a cut in a program they use. We’re in this together.

    - End of soapbox.

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  24. FireTag on November 28, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    Mike S.:

    I, for one, have never advocated cutting programs because victims may take unfair advantage of them; that’s a problem dealt with by less drastic means (like government employee training) than major program cuts.

    I have and DO advocate program cuts because I think we have developed a class of political “rescuers” whose extent of personal benefits AS rescuers have become so parasitical upon the victims as to be harmful to the current victims and eventually fatal to the programs that were set up for aid themselves.

    When Federal, State, and local government unfunded liabilities are on the order of $100 trillion — AND THEY ARE — the rescuers have ALREADY become persecutors. The victims just haven’t noticed yet, the way Southern Europe is starting to do so.

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  25. Will on November 28, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    What we need to do is change the emblem of our country from an Eagle that represents freedom and rugged individualism, to a big old fat sow with her teets sucked dry.


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  26. Douglas on November 28, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    (laughing ’till it hurts, which you as a MD know is quite possible when you’re battling the flu as I am:) “I don’t necessarily “shill” for the DNC”….WHAT? You’re giving it up for FREE? That’s what gives the world’s oldest profession a bad name…ok, that’s enough teasing….
    Your practice is primarily of the “47 percent” that Romney DENIGRATED? Well, knowing but a little of the bureaucratic nitwittery that you must have to deal with (instead of devoting your energies to your patients’ needs, which certainly must frustrate you to no end) in treating Medicare and/or other Government medical insurance programs, I can only sympathize and pray that some common sense prevails in reforming the system. From what I can see, Romney described the general characteristics of the ’47%’ quite accurately…they’ve become essentially, if for no other reason than they don’t know any different, a bunch of freeloaders. People a bit ‘down on their luck’? Perhaps in some cases. It’s been my experience that fairly much folks CREATE their own opportunities. It’s the old adage of teaching a man to fish versus merely handing him one…at some point, you have to thrust a pole and a can of worms in his hands, and say, “here! Sit down on the muddy bank and try your luck!”. I’d rather help the fellow who is desperately fishing and they’re just not biting versus the one that thinks a snapper ought to fly into his lap. The worse handicap you can give, therefore, is that indeed, a man thinks that he’d needn’t even fish, that somehow it just appears on his plate! I can excuse a child for thinking that way, but I couldn’t hate an adult more than to cause him to have the same thought processes towards his own survival.
    Now, how to get to the practical matters? Yes, in SOME form, taxes will inevitably go up, though I still say it should be possible to avoid that. The old game of “tax the rich” is bogus, it’s been shown that you could not merely raise marginal income tax rates on the higher earners, but indeed CONFISCATE the wealth of the very rich, and you’d gain still little. The bulk of the monies still lie with the middle class, simply due to numbers! It’s easy to suggest that Government embark on some grandiose scheme for the “poor” as long as most folks think that someone else pays for it! The truth it, we ALL pay for it, one way or another (if not by direct taxation, then by Government deficits, borrowing, and the resultant inflation). The real numbers in cutting Government programs ALSO deal primarily with the middle class, and I’m talking two specific areas…compensation (including and emphasizing pensions) for civillian Gov’t employees and military members, and most especially Social Security and Medicare. Your input as a practioner on the latter would be most welcome to help figure out how to get the costs down and reserve benefits/services to those that are more needy of same. For career Gov’t people, they’re going to have to take a hit (I’m on my third year of no COLA and suffering the “caffeine headache” therein, but at least I’m still working…). Uncle is broke, and if we “bureau-rats” made a bad bet and won’t get everything we thought that we would, well, welcome to the club!! As for “Social Insecurity”…there has to be means testing…period. There are many needy elderly, surely, but also the elderly as an age group have by far the most assets and the highest disposable income. It may seem unfair and anti-free market to in effect penalize those, whom, as the late John Housemann would have said, “urrned it”, but, again, Uncle is broke, and Social Security is the biggest cost driver of them all. Beyond ideology is the need for the nation as a whole to accept the iron law that there ain’t no free lunch, and that most of us are going to be hair-lipped to some extent. In the end, as a people, we’ll end up better off for it.

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  27. BJohnson on November 28, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    Mike S

    “If the people WITH are willing to pay a bit more, then perhaps the people WITHOUT are willing to accept a bit of a cut in a program they use. We’re in this together.”

    I appreciate your insights into government policy (particularly in the healthcare area). But I think you may be laboring under a misconception that Firetag just touched on.

    As I mentioned in an earlier thread, we cannot pay for the entitlement promises we have now made. The problem is not that we are unwilling to muster the necessary cooperation and maturity to do so, but rather that doing so is now a mathematical impossibility given the size of our economy and the annual rates of growth we can realistically hope to coax from it in future.

    The pre-Obamacare unfunded liabilities were about $100 trillion (using the most realistic discount rates). Looking at Obamacare, most sources I have checked put the additional unfunded liability total for that program at about $17 trillion. Every time the CBO re-crunches the numbers the total goes up again.

    This total is roughly equal to seven times the size of the current U.S. economy. It also equals about 40 years worth of federal spending at current rates.

    Replacing the Clinton-era tax rates (for all taxpayers) would optimistically generate about $1 trillion over the next ten years. The most optimistic estimates I have seen indicate that the present value of those future revenues will only cover 10 to 12 percent of the future liabilities.

    The power of the professional “rescuer” class ensures that no meaningful cuts will be made before it is far too late. By that time, the necessary cuts will have to be so savage that the economy will seize up if we try to make them (again, see Greece).

    What scares me most is what politicians will do with the citizenry’s $10+ Trillion in private retirement account assets when we come to the narrow passage. Interested in the government running another pension program to guarantee you a happy retirement?

    Paying is now a mathematical impossibility. The propaganda of both major parties works hard to hide it (Democrats=”Rich can pay the bill”, Republicans=”We can grow our way out of it.”). Very few will be aware of the problem until the fires begin to burn in major urban centers.

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  28. Mike S on November 28, 2012 at 6:16 PM

    #26 BJohnson / #27 Douglas:

    I absolutely agree with you about the enormous unfunded liability issue. And it will take a combination of things to fix it (if any politician is serious about fixing it – ie. seeing beyond the next election cycle). I also agree that it won’t get fixed until we crash and burn and are forced to fix it by default. I agree with both of you 100%.

    So, short of throwing up our hands and saying there is nothing we can do, where do you start? Reforming entitlement programs is essential, but it has to be done in a rational basis. Romney’s idea of cutting everyone’s taxes 20% and cutting deductions (or capping them at $15k / $25k / $50k) to make up some of the difference was completely absurd. Every single study of the issue suggested that the middle class would be neutral at best in his plan, but people earning in the $1-10 million range would literally get cuts of a quarter million. If you are trying to cut entitlements with that tax plan, you are inciting open class warfare. It would be completely unsettling.

    We don’t have to go far back to see a plan that, while not perfect, was at least better. Under Clinton, income taxes were a bit higher (but still nowhere the 50-90% historical rates we have had), capital gains taxes were higher, and the economy still did just fine. The GDP grew year after year, and we actually had a budget surplus. Again, pennies towards the unfunded liabilities problem, but at least a step in the right direction.

    So, when I look at the current election cycle, which plan made the most sense. They are both flawed, but that’s politics. The plan presented by Obama made more sense to me. Worry about entitlement programs, but to get political capital and avoid civil unrest, at least let the taxes on the rich go back to where they were under Clinton. They weren’t that much higher and all of the doom and gloom about businesses shutting down under those tax rates simply ignores the historical facts that businesses did just fine that decade. The rich people STILL got richer.

    That was the biggest issue for me in this election, so yes, I did talk about Obama – but mostly because Romney’s plan made absolutely no sense at all to me. His theory that lowering taxes would have caused the economy to do better isn’t borne out by any historical data. It was just him pandering to his rich friends.

    Regardless, I do think that we are in for a huge crash. We keep kicking the can down the road. Someone is going to be left standing when the last chair is pulled. At least I have a skill that can be bartered for food.

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  29. Douglas on November 28, 2012 at 6:45 PM

    #27-well said! The fictional Benjamin Martin’s warning about the harm a popular legislature (“3000 tyrants a mile away”) is capable of have come to pass. Neither braying jackass nor stomping pachyderm are willing to own up to the problem. In the meantime, we of the Libertarian streak act like James Tiberius Kirk, saying “Excuse Me” (and the issue is that the USA is broke, would that we want to find out from “Gawd” why he needs a starship).
    And to think we passed up an opportunity to elect the best fodder for this type of joke:

    Luke Skywalker: The Alliance, started by my mother, Senator Amidala, fought tirelessly to defeat Palpatine and his evil.

    Admiral Daala: But Palpatine built hospitals, schools, space stations, and brought order to the Galaxy. To us, he was Palpatinw, the consensus builder.

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  30. Hawkgrrrl on November 28, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    Mike S, on the 47% comment, bear in mind that Romney was justifying to himself why their votes were unattainable for him. It was as much about his insecurity about his standing as it was about anything. And he completely disavowed his comment and said it was wrong. But that isn’t enough for you because he “denigrated” those victims. Yet no lasting damage was done by him. He truly had no power and is now a footnote in a history book. Talk about denigration. After one of the most successful careers ever, he’s just been voted The Least Influential Person of the Year by GQ. Ouch. Any pity for him yet? He made a gaffe. He accidentally told the truth about how he was feeling: vulnerable. Going on about the comment now feels excessive.

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  31. Hawkgrrrl on November 28, 2012 at 6:49 PM

    See the drama triangle in action?

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  32. FireTag on November 28, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    Mike S.:

    Glad to see you understand what’s coming. Do you think Obama has figured that out, too, and is simply using his skill at campaigning to be sure he and his are the ones with the last tickets on the lifeboats?

    The interesting question, of course, is who gets thrown out of the coalition next after the rich in the private sector are cannibalized.

    I would think you’re fairly high up on the list; Obamacare “pays” for itself by imposing price controls on what providers of health services can charge and what services they must provide. They won’t take those savings out of unionized employees, and they’ve already imposed the taxes on health-care devices, so closing facilities and cutting doctor pay is where they have to go. Even when the Feds set up health care exchanges, they’ll hire insurance companies as contractors rather than hire government employees, and you’ll still be dealing with exactly the same technicality-based rejections.

    Rich greens are also likely. Obama just signed a law this week exempting US airlines from having to comply with the EU emissions-trading regs for flights into/through/or out of Europe. He doesn’t have to campaign again, so he can take money from the progressive upper classes more directly through taxation of the rich than from buying their votes.

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  33. Mike S on November 29, 2012 at 8:21 AM

    #32 FireTag: Do you think Obama has figured that out, too, and is simply using his skill at campaigning to be sure he and his are the ones with the last tickets on the lifeboats?

    I would argue that ALL of the politicians in Washington have figured it out. I’ve been back to DC several times to talk to our representatives about medical issues, and they will all talk in private about the impending fiscal crisis – which makes this “fiscal cliff” talk just a blip on the radar. And, to be honest, none of them have a clue what to do about it.

    All of them, Republican or Democrat, realize that to raise taxes too significantly or to cut programs too much is essentially political suicide. So they rearrange the chairs on the Titanic and posture, doing what little they can.

    Ultimately, they are reflections of us as a people. It doesn’t matter where you are on the spectrum – you want to pay the government as little as possible and want to suck as much out of the government as possible. This occurs on the entire span of the spectrum – whether it’s someone trying to bilk the government out of a $300 welfare check, or a defense contractor bilking the government out of tens of millions of dollars, or uber-wealthy lobbying the government to save themselves billions in taxes. It’s the same on every level.

    Until we, as a country, decide that we are willing to give up our own personal interests and sacrifice a bit for the common good, we will continue down this course. We can come together if we want. In WWII, people willingly accepted rationing for a common goal. It can happen.

    And that’s what personally bothered me most about Romney – more than any other quality. I wanted to vote for a Mormon. I thought it was cool that his “Mormon-ness” disappeared to a large extent as a campaign issue. But I also felt that the rich asking for a further 20% reduction in tax rates that were already at historical lows represented pure greed. Nothing more, nothing less. It was more “ME-ME-ME”. Even a businessman as respected as Warren Buffett has stated that: “Raising taxes on the rich won’t dampen economic growth and would ‘raise the morale of the middle class,’” So the argument that tax breaks were needed to help the economy was weak – it was purely about greed.

    And, for me, that was the breaking point in my support for Romney.

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  34. FireTag on November 29, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    Bearing in mind, of course, that Buffett wasn’t actually risking much of his money compared to what he has to gain through increased influence with the political class.

    You are right about the generality of our society’s greed. I think you made a wrong choice about which pot of rich people is dirtier than which kettle, but I appreciate your honesty about why you made the choice you did. (I just think some rich people like to be paid in the currency of economic power and others like to be paid in the currency of political power; a few seem to prefer to be paid with sex or adulation.)

    But, for me, the question is one of realism: is it realistic to think that our society will stop acting greedily BEFORE it learns from the things we suffer. If it is, you keep preaching; if it isn’t, you try to get people to shelter from the coming storm and repair the damage in the changed situation after the storm is over.

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  35. Douglas on November 29, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    #33 – Mike S, you got up to about 85% where we agree in lockstep! I yield to you, sir. Seriously, I would always welcome your candor .as a “subject matter expert” as a physician, working with patients and having to balance fiancial concerns and compliance with a myriad of Government regulations and mandates, keeping in mind always your oath. THAT I don’t envy for you. I don’t have the direct responsiblity for human health (management and regulation of Underground Storage Tanks for a Federal agency), simply the ongoing directive to protect human health and the environment while pursuing the interests of the taxpayers.
    I wouldn’t equate a desire to keep one’s tax burden low with ‘selfishness’, however. From my perspective, the selfishness lies in folks demanding Government largesse (and like you, I agree that the rich that lobby for sweetheart Government contracts are at least AS guilty, actually, to me, they are moreso, than the protypical “welfare scammers”) to be confiscated from those less able to line up at the trough.
    “both” sides (as if we can generalize that there are but two camps, ala Nephites and Lamanites) do have to lay aside both posturing and selfish interests, and frankly, I don’t have high hopes that statesmen will actually emerge (but like one of my fave groups, ICP, I do believe in miracles…).

    At least I’m seeing some signs of progress as we careen towards “Taxmaggeddon”. I would suggest that the Dems offer no income tax RATE increases and sigificant spending cuts, while the Repubs offer to eliminate most tax deductions and credits for “high” earners (I say start at 250K for singles and 500K for marrieds, but that should be negotiable downwards…), which would be in effect a tax increase on the wealthy (but would defang the conservative argument about the ‘job-killing’ effect of higher tax rates). Also, I’d like to see one of the sacred cows of the tax field dealth with, namely the mortgage deduction. Eliminate altogether the second home mortgage interest, cap the overall deduction for same (I can see my son and his wife earning half combined of what I singly earn getting a tax break on their modest Sacramento-area duplex, but somehow methinks my rich attorney friend, who helped Al Davis fend off the rest of the NFL, will find a way to keep his palatial home overlooking the American river without the interest deduction, assuming that he has a mortgage at all…). These are but a few things that can be done to correct abuses and real as well as perceived injustices in the Federal tax system, and I yield once again to the “subject matter experts” for effective recommendations. Did I all of a sudden drink from the Progressive “kook-Aid”? Not at all, I still cling fast to my Libertarian views…however, under the simply principle of Res Gestae, as the Libertarian Presidential candidate got as many electoral votes as his predecessors (zilch, never mind that he more than doubled the popular vote tally of any of his predecessors, that’s irrevelant), would rather focus the discussions on what can be realistically done TODAY in the American body political and be patient with the preaching of the Libertarian “gospel”.
    I would NEVER have voted for Mitt simply because he’s LDS. In fact, the very fact that I registered, for the first time in 24 years, as a Republican, was so I could vote for Ron Paul (which still proved futile). Methinks that many if not most LDS based their judgement of the man’s worthiness as a Presidential aspirant rather than his status as a member of the Church speaks more loudly than a Mormon running for President. Judging by the actual numbers, where if Mitt HAD at least pulled McCain’s 2008 numbers, in the same distribution, would have taken the electoral college handily, it seems evident that anti-LDS bigotry did play a role (though not necessarily the decided one, because it’s impossible to glean meaningful statistics as to why folks DIDN’T vote for someone or anyone at all…) in Romney’s defeat. And THAT came largely from the same “Christian”, tea-partying crowd (not entirely the same set but there is a signficant overlap) that decries the reelection of BHO. The ability to change that verdict was in your collective hands, you fools…so now, let’s go with the “B” team (at least from my persepctive) and find a way to win. Hey, my “Gigantes” did it…the latest game played in the swimming pool is…”Marco! Scutaro!” (LoL).

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  36. Will on November 29, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    The worst thing that can happen is to create an environment where rescuers’ are needed, and maybe the idea of avoiding this is just a pipe dream of mine. I keep going back to Japan and Europe because it seems to be the way we are headed, but I see the United States more like Japan or Germany rather than Greece, Spain or Portugal.

    What is going on in Greece (with Iceland,
    Ireland, Portugal, and to an extent Italy and Spain) is a complete melt-down of their society due to the social programs with no real industry (and thus the tax base) to pay for it. This is why I said to an extent Italy, and compared the US to Germany and Japan. The reason Greece is such a mess is that they have debt at 171 percent of their GDP and have no real way to pay it back. Japan, on the other hand has debt that is twice the size of their GDP, but aren’t a complete mess because they have significant industry (Toyota largest car maker in the World, Komatsu the second largest equipment maker, Sony, etc…) that can somewhat sustain the massive social programs they have. Their debt, however, is still climbing and GDP growth is anemic.

    The US, with the largest companies in the world (about 40 percent of the top 2,000) shows we could probably sustain the percentage of debt of Japan, but will face the anemic growth and climbing debt. For example, Walmart or Exxon Mobile generates more revenue that MOST countries total output of goods and services (GDP). Both of these companies have revenue at about $400 Billion, which is just below the GDP of Austria and South Africa and just above the GDP of Denmark and the UAE. Combined, their GDP is about the same size as the total GDP of the Netherlands and not far under Mexico, Australia and South Korea. However, Japan and Germany rely on exports to the US to support the GDP growth. Take this out of the equation and they either have massive cuts in social programs or face bankruptcy.
    The moral of the story is less government and more business as those countries with large corporations seem to be able to handle debt better than countries with limited industry as they have the tax base to support such endeavors.

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  37. Howard on November 29, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    All of these national financial problems are occurring yet there is no resulting general global shortage of goods and services. WHY? Because they are being purchased with debt for those who otherwise could not pay for them and providing income for their producers and shareholders. In the absence of this we could choose a more balanced budget producing fewer goods and services (recession/depression) or we can choose a greater disparity than currently exists between the haves and have nots. The interconnectedness of global market tends to mitigate the theoretical bankruptcies. Is there a problem? YES! But there is significant elasticity in the hysteresis that proceeds a global rupture.

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  38. Will on November 29, 2012 at 4:10 PM


    Elastic hysteresis is a good description, but I see it more as leverage vs collapse. Elastic hysteresis implies the contraction will be the same as the expansion, like in a rubber band. I don’t see it that way, because of the paradox of thrift, which is feed by the human impulses of fear and greed. I mean look at Greece. It’s economic influence on the world is less than Wal-
    Mart, but when more austerity is demanded by Germany there are riots in the streets and the global market freaks out. Stock markets the world over drop and the price of Gold drops 30 to 40 dollars per ounce.

    Again, Greece has less economic influence in the world than Wal-Mart (an even Better example would be about the same economic influence as GM pre-government takeover) Once that paradox of thrift gets rolling it almost becomes a death spiral, so the economy contracts faster than it expanded when debts become too heavy.

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  39. Howard on November 29, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    I agree expansion is welcomed while contraction is catastrophised due to human emotion, if you remove the emotion I think you have a good elasticity model. In my example when the elasticity is exceeded the rubber band breaks but the break is delayed beyond many people’s expectation because of the global economic interdependence.

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