Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Return of Wonkery

A respite from rampant movie blogging.

Anyone half paying attention to Bush's campaign Social Security privatization knows the "reform" talk is just a ruse. There is no evidence that private investment accounts will solve the account shortfalls that will arrive in 40 years. Indeed, Bush's scheme is mathematically doomed to fail. Social Security reform, as everyone in Washington knows, will involve a combination of raising the age for people to qualify benefits (to 67 or so), means-testing, and/or raising payroll taxes on top earners. Even back in 1995, when I spent an unpleasant month of my life writing a tedious research paper on Social Security reform for my public policy class, most of the serious policy papers advocated some variation on those ideas. The question isn't how, but whether politicians have the backbone to fiddle with the "third rail of American politics."

Whatever could be said about Bush, he's got backbone. He fashions himself as a "transformative" President, the one to finally unmake the New Deal and usher in a conservative era. So this "reform" really isn't about fixing a problem, but about chipping away at a liberal sacred cow. But in a way, this whole debate is just another instance in which the sides are talking past one another. On the liberals are from Venus, conservatives are from Mars front, TNR has just posted a very interesting article by Jonathan Chait. Chait posits a hypothetical about God coming down to tell one side that all evidence supports the other side's position. Definitely worth checking out.

And on the Social Security front, here's a particularly damning article from the LA Times, which describes the awful performance by states that allow future beneficiaries of state pension plans to invest in private accounts. More fodder for Dems to pound away at. (If the Dems can't defend their own castle -- the one hugely popular liberal program -- they oughta take a wrecking ball to the party.)