Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A comment I placed on a liberal blog post that asks "Do Liberals Need an Economic Vision":

I would give liberal economists a more respectful hearing if they weren't defending Social Security. Social Security's implicit debt is a financial disaster in the long run. Its huge costs will turn ours into a much more tax-and-spend type government, but what will we get for it? We won't be fighting child poverty, or funding education, or building infrastructure, or boosting foreign aid. We'll be channeling tax dollars, raised through the most regressive tax on the books, to old people, including some very affluent old people, and who are increasingly healthy and able to work, particularly as advancing technology makes jobs less physically labor-intensive. Historically, federal spending has stayed at a fairly constant 20-21%. If this continues to hold, more money for the elderly will squeeze out spending on other, better causes.

I can't understand why Democrats aren't jumping at the chance to change this program. They could easily accept the principle of partial privatization and then try to craft the reform in a way that benefits the poor. They could argue for a higher social-safety-net provision, for federal matching funds for lower-income forced-savers, or for jump-starting the account by making an initial $1000 deposit when a child is born.

That they're not doing this basically destroys my faith that Democrats have any true commitment to the generous principles with which their party is historically associated.

The post is worth reading. But a prerequisite for a genuine liberal economic vision is that the defense of middle-class entitlement be abandoned.


  • Let us assume that we want a general safety net for the old who, deserving or undeserving, are facing poverty in old age and no way to escape it.

    If the SS program is not universal, there's every possibility that like every other program directed towards the poor, there'll be a strong incentive to cut it because it doesn't affect the "average person".

    Those who constructed SS realized that the only way to get the public to buy in to the program was to provide the benefit to all, so that we don't resent the heavy cost of keeping our elderly out of poverty.

    Making some numbers up, we might save a 1/3 the cost of SS by making it means tested, but in doing so, the political will might not be there to tax at rates more than 1/2 of the current rates. The net result is a cut of benefits to those in need.

    By Anonymous Tom West, at 8:57 AM  

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