Tuesday, March 15, 2005

We're not so stingy

I take issue this Jonathan Chait piece in TNR. He argues that Bush's proposed partial privatization of Social Security is okay by itself, but that Democrats must oppose it because it would lead us down a slippery slope that ends with the elderly poor and disabled left to fend for themselves.
At a town-hall meeting last month in Philadelphia, Rick Santorum, the stalwart conservative senator from Pennsylvania, was pitching President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, speaking the reassuringly nonideological language of insolvency dates and rates of return. It fell to a sympathetic college student in the audience, blessedly unversed in the arts of message discipline, to state what conservatives truly think--and have always thought--about Social Security. "I want to know what problem everybody has with taking care of themselves," she said. At a similar event, College Republicans chanted, "Hey hey, ho ho, Social Security has got to go."

Out of the mouths of babes came a pair of remarkably succinct statements about what is at stake as the Bush administration sets about privatizing Social Security: Should Social Security remain in something like its present form, as a social guarantee to retirees, widows, and disabled workers? Or should it be dismantled and replaced with a system in which everybody takes care of themselves?
Bush's allies would no doubt reply that they only intend to privatize the system in part. They would leave a minimum guaranteed benefit in place, along with survivors' benefits. What they rarely acknowledge is that partial privatization is designed to lead to full privatization.
Apparently, Chait is living in some imaginary universe where, if the Democrats don't hold the line, a few years down the road not only will the national Republicans commit a long planned-for electoral suicide by ending the welfare component of Social Security, but neither state or local governments or private charities will step in where the Feds have stepped out. I long for the day when the federal government once again obeys the Constitution and eliminates things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Departments of Education, Energy, HUD, and HHS. But what are the odds of that happening? Even if it did happen, many conservatives, including myself, would continue to support welfare programs at the state and local level.

If there's a liberal case against private Social Security accounts, then Chait hasn't made it.


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