Saturday, February 05, 2005

Means and motives

As I've written before, the privatizing Social Security and making it fiscally sustainable are issues that can be separated. In President Bush's SOTU address this week, he implied as much: "As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers."

In the post I linked to above, I wrote that private accounts would increase our rate of saving, and thus us make us richer in the long-term. I now regret not going beyond that and also making the moral case for private accounts. The moral rationale lies far closer to my heart than any utilitarian economic argument, but it's one of those things that I've said so many times (if not so many times in my blog) that composing the argument once again often feels burdensome.

What prompted this regret was reading Jacob Sullum make the moral case pithily but beautifully:
Although sold to the public as a pension system, Social Security is based on the forced transfer of resources between generations. It steals from the poor to give to the rich, and it substitutes dependence on a beneficent state for self-reliance and voluntary mutual aid. It may not be financially bankrupt, but it is morally so.

By contrast, private investment accounts represent genuine savings, as opposed to claims on other people's money. There is no getting around the fact that requiring people to save also involves the use of force, but this sort of paternalism seems preferable to the predation at the heart of the current system.
That's what the Social Security fight is really about. Arrayed against the above argument stand Democrats with a different moral vision instantiated as policy in the New Deal. Looking at economic and budgetary analyses of various reform proposals, one sees some very interesting technocratic arguments, but they are all means to an end.

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