What makes this piece super interesting is the defense of the curriculum by one Anand Marri, an assistant professor of social studies and education in charge of the project. He rejected the idea that Peterson and his foundation might be using Teachers College to promote an agenda, saying that the point is to get kids to think about multiple perspectives. Marri said the curriculum was a work in progress and acknowledged that that some of the lessons that appeared skewed or lacking important context would be addressed later. When Lardner asked him how that would be done, he replied by adding a fact, changing the sequence of material, or adding a qualifying phrase such as “some economists say.” He would add that phrase to the following passage appearing in the curriculum’s introductory material:
Our existing tax structure and government spending patterns, the rapidly rising cost of the way we deliver health care, and our mandated commitment to provide Medicare for a ‘booming’ population of retirees age 65 and older have put our economy on an unsustainable course.
It’s worth calling out a few of the other “errors of commission and omission,” as Remapping Debate describes them in a separate box accompanying the story. On health care costs, the curriculum often refers to the sharp growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending, but says very little about the same cost inflation in the private health care market. Marri told Lardner that health care policy was too much to take on. That also seems to be the case for a discussion of progressive taxation. The curriculum fails to discuss the historical context for progressive taxation, “nor do the lessons discuss the changes that have made the U.S. tax code significantly less progressive in recent decades.”
Remapping Debate did not note whether the curriculum discussed the effects on families under various proposed solutions. What would cutting Social Security and Medicare mean for the families of students schooled in the curriculum? What happens when Medicare benefits don’t cover their parents’ health care needs? Will those students have to get a job to help cover those costs? What happens when their parents need nursing home care—a lot of it now paid for by Medicaid, which is on the chopping block? If those students will have to assist their parents, then what does that mean for their own finances? If Social Security benefits are to be cut, which is what raising the retirement age would do, that means less income in old age. How does the need to save more to compensate for this shortfall square with rising college costs for their kids and the help their elderly parents will need?
Remapping Debate reported that Teachers College initially asked for $50,000 for a project on personal finance, but the Peterson crew had a bigger project in mind focusing on public finance, and upped the grant to $2.4 million. It seems like Teachers College still might want to consider the personal finance implications of all this. As I learned at Columbia University—the business school, that is—everything in economics is connected to each other.
Click here for more from Trudy Lieberman on Social Security and entitlement reform.