Going back at least to Ben Franklin, Americans have equated greater thriftiness with greater worthiness. Progressives decry the limited saving and wealth accumulation of middle-income families and express alarm over the widely reported “fact” that 40 percent of Americans cannot come up with $400 in an emergency. Conservatives applaud thrift as an aspect of self-reliance and propose ideas such as health-savings accounts to help families prepare for emergencies. Moderates believe universal social insurance programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which they label as entitlements, should be modest or even curtailed out of fiscal prudence.
In the current economic context of extremely low interest rates, however, these views are more wrong than right. The federal government should provide more, not less, social insurance. If it did, the result would be reduced inequality, a more secure middle class and a stronger economy.The Washington Post