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December 24, 2004

Turning Up the Heat

Matthew Yglesias wonders why so few of those who are opposed to Social Security on ideological grounds will denounce George W. Bush's misleading rhetoric:

Matthew Yglesias: Other Reasons: Waddling Thunder says he doesn't buy "the Matthew Yglesias/other leftist line that there's nothing wrong with the [Social Security] system" before explaining that "Paying 12% of your first $80,000 to the government in addition to all your other taxes is itself the crisis. Nothing more needs to be said in favor of reform." But now of course this doesn't mean that he doesn't buy my argument at all. My argument is that, contrary to the President's contention, there is no Social Security crisis. No this is not a genuine disgreement between myself and Bush. Rather Bush, like WT, simply finds Social Security objectionable on ideological grounds. But rather than present an honest argument in favor of his ideas, he prefers to try and mislead people in order to try and gain popular support for an agenda that, were it presented honestly, would stand no chance of passing. See also the Iraq War and every major Bush legislative initiative so far.

At any rate, other people I respect also just find Social Security to be intolerable for ideological reasons and are, therefore, hoping that Bush's campaign of deception will win the day. I don't really have any inclination to get into an argument on this front, since I don't really think there's a purpose to having purely ideological arguments of this sort. Looking around me, I don't see a country in which a rather large mandatory social insurance program has created a nation of serfs. More to the point, the privatization schemes I've actually seen put forward only amount to a rather trivial injection of actual human choice into the system. The main difference between the status quo and the most popular forced savings plans is the distributional one. Social Security is progressive, mandatory tax-free savings would be regressive. Some people think government policies aimed at redistributing income are, as such, immoral. Other people think that people who think that are a bit crazy. The clever ones among the anti-redistributivists -- the president, for example -- never say that this is actually what they believe since running on a platform of "We Must Do More to Help Rich People!" wouldn't work very well.

Posted by DeLong at December 24, 2004 10:59 AM

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Prof. Delong,

This is a good question. I've argued that from a conservative perspective, it makes no sense that the Prez would want to continue to tax us at all. If privatizing SS or a part of it is such a good idea, why not just cut payroll taxes? One of those wierd things, I guess.

Posted by: KC at December 24, 2004 11:38 AM

Where oh where is the nearest altar? If I have to read one more article about social security, I would like to sacrifice myself upon it.

Posted by: cloquet at December 24, 2004 06:38 PM

Cloquet, we would all love to save you from that need to self-immolate yourself. Just get Bush to convince privatizers to keep their hands off Social Security and I will shut up. I promise. Not a peep, nary a %, nada about ratios.

Posted by: Bruce Webb at December 25, 2004 03:38 AM

I'm ideologically opposed to Social Security, but similarly opposed both to whatever forced savings plan is being cooked up in Washington AND to the dishonest rhetoric with which it will be sold.

Posted by: digamma at December 25, 2004 06:35 AM

It's perfectly obvious - e.g., look at the ballistic missile defense program - that G. W. Bush is no sort of ideological Randite and is not opposed to redistributivism, but is firmly in favor of the American government redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich.

Posted by: W. Kiernan at December 25, 2004 07:02 AM

Well, I'm ideologically in favor of SS, but I think those who think like me ought to call the president's bluff. We should begin by pointing out the tiny amount of choice the administration's proposal actually contains & the tiny percentage of taxes that will be diverted. "So, Mr. President," we ought to be asking, "if you think these piddling little changes are good, why not have the courage of your convictions & go all the way? Why not ask the American people to endorse doing away with SS? After all, that 12% would hit the economy like a bolt of lightning." It would be intersting to hear Bush or Snow reply that, well, we need some kind of program to prevent people from falling into poverty in their old age. Oh, yeah, that would be SS.

Posted by: Joseph Duemer at December 25, 2004 05:42 PM

[Yet another piece of comment spam makes it through]

Posted by: at December 26, 2004 01:04 AM