Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ideological commitment as anterior condition

I know I promised I wouldn't blog, but I couldn't help but post this exchange today between me and a friend:

Friend: A reasonable compromise position on all of this Social Security stuff would be to raise the maximum annual contribution. As you know, this could potentially cost people like you and me several thousand dollars. I'm conflicted...

Small Precautions: gee... raise taxes as a solution to insolvency? ya think?

Friend: You're right, it's pretty unlikely.

Small Precautions: The real issue is that Bush is sadly right that people our age have no confidence that we'll ever collect from Social Security -- mainly because we look at the vultures trying to dismantle it and we figure that eventually they'll more or less succeed. Bush's political rhetoric about the insolvency of the system, the need to dismantle it, tends to create its own truth, not on a financing-policy level (on that level it's merely a lie), but rather on a political level. On a political level, the Club-for-Growth soak-the-poor rhetoric erodes the confidence of younger workers in the long-term political viability of Social Security. (And of course, as we know, the Bushies think that the political level is the policy level)

The Bushies' political-ideological campaign against Social Security makes anyone under fifty leery, to say the least, about the prospect of having our taxes on the system raised, given that any such "solution" seems likely merely to mean that we'll pay even more before we still end up not collecting. (All those people born in the 1950s, who thought they were being saved by the 1983 reforms, must be bitter as hell right now, for precisely this reason -- Bush has basically told them, yeah, you've been paying double for 20 years, and now we're going to abolish the system.)

That leeriness in turn makes it far harder to create the political will to develop reasonable proposals for dealing with the underfunding of parts of the program. If many of the negotiators make it clear that they are ideologically opposed to the system, then it becomes very difficult to pursuade people to make painful choices today to help preserve the system. It's a basic principle of bargaining: you can't compromise with people who are negotiating in bad faith. Why make painful sacrifices today for a system that some right-wing ideologue will simply eviscerate in ten years? And this political sentiment, of course, is precisely what the Bush regime wants to create: by orchestrating a political de-commitment from Social Security, thus making people unwilling to make tough choices, the Bush regime is potentially creating the fiscal and policy crisis condition it claims is the basis for their political opposition.

Of course, their opposition to Social Security is actually ideological, rather than based in policy, exposing the essentially mendacious nature of the entire political stunt.

This political logic accounts for why the first condition of any meaningful Social Security reform (as opposed to abolition or privatization), as Josh Marshall's blog has made abundantly clear, is an absolute ideological commitment to maintaining the program in more or less its current form, i.e. a mildly redistributionist, pay-as-you-go system of old-age income insurance. With that commitment in place across the political spectrum, policy-makers can then think about how best to preserve that system, and make the necessary choices. This was precisely the situation in 1983, for example, that led to the very reasonable creation of the Social Security Trust Fund, which put into a place a system that even now may be sufficiently funded forever.

Friend: Agreed, but I'm not sure the confidence of the young should have any relevance. I'm sure most of the people collecting Social Security as their only income never thought they would need it. It's social insurance, that's the point.

Also, as I have said before, absolute ideological commitment to Social Security is great, but it's not a plan, it's defense. Until the Dems come up with some affirmative points, and figure out what they stand for, they will lose every battle like this.

No comments: