Monday, March 28, 2005

Social Security semantics

Tonight at Columbia Law School, a debate on Social Security pitted supply-sider Larry Kudlow against The Century Foundation's Greg Anrig.

Most interesting about Anrig's remarks, I thought, was the eery similarity to Paul Krugman's performance at a debate against Michael Tanner (of the Cato Institute) in Manhattan a few weeks ago. Same talking points: It's an insurance program, not welfare, so we musn't quibble about the fact that some people reap fewer in benefits than they contribute. What kind of society would we be if we each went our own way and didn't care about everyone's survival? After all, life in the United States is riskier than ever before.

Risker than ever? That's a hard claim to make with a straight face. Unemployment is negligible. Americans live longer than ever, enjoy more sterile environments (thanks to anti-bacterial soaps, pesticides, and asbestos litigation), and don't worry about starving to death (quite the opposite, for many of us). In fact, we've eliminated so many of the old *risks* that we have time to read magazines that urge us to get enough beta carotene and fiber or else. And don't forget to sleep 8 hours a night.

It's odd to hear a Democrat defend Social Security so, well, defensively -- "it's NOT a welfare program" -- as Krugman did in his debate, and as Anrig did tonight. Oh, so there's a problem with welfare? A problem with means testing, which, I heard an audience member protest tonight, stigmatizes the poor?

We free-marketeers may not win every political debate, but at least we speak frankly about our own position. No mincing of words here.


Anonymous said...

You left out your contribution to the debate.

Clara said...

Well, Steve, I'm glad you appreciated it. I aim to please.