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Friday, March 11, 2005
Remember When ‘Gridlock’ Was a Negative Term?
By Steven L. @ 8:37 pm

I saw a link to an interesting article on Dale Franks’ Q&O blog.

Following it to the New Republic Online site, I found the talking points that we may expect to see on the Social Security debate.

Despite conservatives’ insistence that Social Security faces a “crisis,” in reality, the fiscal threat is distant and manageable, while the political threat is immediate and dire.

Number One, of course, is always that the problems can be put off. Granted, the serious fiscal problems do not become what I think of as “dire” until around 2040, but I fail to see the intrinsic benefit of putting off doing anything until we’re right at the precipice. There may be some conservatives that claim we are at a ‘crisis,’ but the main argument seems to be, rather, that we should act before it reaches the ‘crisis’ stage.

This rhetorical device — arguing about whether it is a crisis — seems reminiscent of the claims about whether Iraq was an ‘imminent’ threat — and is being used in exactly the same way.

I don’t care if it qualifies as a crisis or merely a problem — how does relabeling it as a ‘non-crisis’ remove the problem? This is simply renaming the issue and hoping that no one notices that the 800 lb rabid gorilla ithat you’ve now labeled a ‘non-crisis’ is still outside the front door, waiting for you to peek out. Naming the gorilla Fluffy does not help you because sooner or later, you still have to poke your head out.

So here, let’s all agree there is no crisis, yet. Now what? Because that does not actually solve the problem. And the problem here isn’t Republicans or Neocons or even Karl Rove’s mindrays ™. the problem is math.

People are living longer. The baby boom generation is going to retire. There will be fewer and fewer workers available to pay for higher and higher amounts being given out as benefits. These are facts — and renaming the facts or wishing them away will not affect them. We can quibble about whether it starts flying apart in 1038 or 2042 or 2050, but the end result is completely inevitable unless we do something.

So the question is: why not decide what to do now, rather than then?

Part Two of that same comment asserts that the problem is “manageable.” It’s a nice word, manageable. Unfortunately, you have to wait another 21 paragraphs to find out what that means: higher taxes and lower benefits. That part is sort of skipped over quickly, when we are assured that “[m]ore likely [than having to do nothing], the benefit cuts or tax hikes required to keep it in the black will be less severe than currently projected.”

So the alternative being offered (in a passive-aggressive, look for it kind of way) is the following: (1) do nothing and hope everything goes well; and (2) more likely, raise taxes and cut benefits, and hope everything goes well.

So the author (Jonathon Chait) advises democrats to block the reform/privitization effort. the reasoning behind that appears to be that once people are “given” rights by the government, they are reluctant to give them back away.

As conservatives well understand, once a group of voters has been given a property right by Washington, they will never allow it to be taken away. The individual rights will be a ratchet, one that can be expanded but never contracted.

I wish. First of all, the entire premise is a bit dodgy, as voters willingly trade away property freedoms or rights for ’security’ to the government on a regular basis. From my (admittedly conservative, with a dash of libertarian) viewpoint, the ratchet works the other way: give government control over anything, and it expands and grows out of control, sending out tendrils like a giant, mutated squid in a late-night horror flick.

But lets place that aside for the moment. There is an even more fundamental problem: rights are not granted to the people from on high by the government.

Mr. Clait, however, fears that people who are given a chance to save their own money and spend it as they see fit — especially if they manage to obtain higher returns — might (gasp) be reluctant to hand that control back over to government. That could lead (swoon) to having the entire retirement system run by the people themselves, and not the federal government.

Note: the original argument against this “risky scheme” (to borrow a phrase from Al Gore) was that it would not work and would place people’s retirement at risk. People must be protected from themselves. Now, it appears the problem might be a fear that people would do too well to return to the fold.

[This reminds me somewhat of the early school voucher arguments, when I would regularly see letters to the editor explaing that private schools would not be able to educate our children as well as the public schools, and that public schools would have to shut down, as they could not compete. These arguments would be in the same letter.]

Mr. Clait continues (I have excised a few sentences):

In light of all this, it should be clear how critical it is to block private accounts.

Indeed. If, that is, you want to retain control of the people’s money and feel that allowing people control over their own finances is a bad idea.

Filed under: General | |Send TrackBack |


  1. Unfortunately, all the people who are lining up against Social Security reform *don’t* have to poke their heads out. Fluffy will be after the kids.

    Comment by Eric Lindholm — Friday, March 11, 2005 @ 9:19 pm

  2. The “crisis” v. “imminent threat” comparison is quite a good one. For some insane reason many Democrats in the last several years have wanted to argue more about verbiage than about the actual problems in question.

    It is as if proving that the President exaggerated would mean that there never was a problem in the first place.

    Such faulty logic seems to underscore the basic approach of the Democratic leadership of late.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Saturday, March 12, 2005 @ 7:20 am

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