Friday, October 22, 2004

The Humble Blogger or Why We Shouldn't But Will Talk About Social Security

In 1972, Edward Dijkstra delivered his Turing Lecture called "The Humble Progrgrammer". In it, he explains that one of the important things for a programmer to keep in mind is the limit of their own intelligence. Otherwise, we end up with explosions of complexity and nonesense. We apply that as a sort of editorial dictum here. We don't, in general, discuss things that are well outside our areas of expertise. I offer this up because the other day, when I was stuck on something to blog about and asked a few friends for ideas, a major topic of interest was Social Security.

We avoid this topic (and others like it) because in order to intelligently discuss it, one has to have quite a grasp of the numbers and specific policies and their implications. In other words, you have to be an economist and a policy wonk, and we're neither. However, there are a few things to be said about privatizing that are safe bets without needing numbers or wonkish tendancies. It's impossible for us to get into the nuts and bolts of the various schemes to privatize. However, it's possible to ask the obvious question of the starve the beasters who claim privatization is the only way to go: ARE YOU EFFIN' KIDDING ME?

These guys don't have any interest in saving Social Security. In their minds it's evil, so why would they want to "save" Social Security in the first place? The only possible reason would be to render it ineffective. There may be a case to be made for privatization, but I wouldn't look for it from The Heretige Foundation, The Cato Institute, or Americans For Tax Reform. They'll more than likely give you the line that "The Market Will Take Care Of It Better Than The Government", which may be true now(although I doubt it), but that's because they've worked so damn hard to render the government ineffective in the first place. These think tanks are an integral part of a movement that's spent decades attempting to roll back the New Deal, the Great Society, and anything else that might be construed as a social safety net. I don't understand why, and, reading Mr. Krugman's Opus (the paperback version of which we finally got our hands on yesterday), it's apparent that even some free market economists don't either.

So what we have to offer the discussion is pretty simple. The drive to privatize Social Security is an idealogical one, not a practical one. Much like Krugman, we find it self evident that the the administration spends its time finding arguments to convince the public that what the administration wants to do is what the public has to do. So our gut reaction to Social Security privatization is much the same as it was to the Iraq war: don't let these guys do it.