Thursday, March 17, 2005

This week's Campus Times really cemented my belief that in this country by and large, the two major political parties are The Evil Party and The Stupid Party. Oh, sure, there are blurrings of the lines all over the place, and there are a ton of exceptions to the rule - I know Republicans who are better people than me, and quite a few clever and/or intelligent Democrats too - but that's how it looks to me on the whole.

In the paper today there was this point/counterpoint on Social Security. Now, the pro-privatization side of the argument pointed out problems with the system. For one thing, Social Security taxes - fees, whatever - are only applied to the first $90,000 of income, which means that someone earning $90,000 per year and $900,000 per year pay exactly the same amount. They also point out that blacks, for example, tend to die earlier than whites, so they (supposedly) get less benefit from Social Security than white people. Now, there are a lot of different things that could be done about these problems, but for simplicity I'll only consider two. Which would you choose?

(A) Get rid of that ceiling on taxation so you're taxing the people who can afford it. And improve the country's health care system and racial inequalities so that the life expectancies of black people are equal to those of whites. And maybe even add some kind of means test for Social Security, just so it will last all the way until 2142.

(B) Cripple Social Security by pouring it into a much less efficient and much more volatile system. A retiree's benefits would be a fraction of what they are now, but at least the geezers will be able to move it around between any of four, gosh, maybe even five different mutual funds!

If you chose (A), then congratulations! You're probably a well-adjusted member of society, capable of making ethical decisions without being led by the hand. I don't know what your guiding principle is, your one Rule to Live By, if you even have one, but it's almost definitely not "Gimme."

If you chose (B), then you are a Republican. Well, that's an unfair sweeping generalization, but it's absolutely accurate to say that (B) is the position taken by Eric Miller and Brian LaSonde, the co-authors of the pro-privatization editorial.

Now look at the issue from a left-winger's perspective. The Bush Administration has, for once, for once, taken a position which is both unpopular and wrong. Social Security is exactly what the government should be doing: providing a safety net, not necessarily to live in luxury but to live with the basic necessities, after a person can't provide for him or herself any more. The security it provides lets individuals get on with their lives and business, allowing them to take more risks and therefore make more progress in life and in the world. Investing it in the stock market, by contrast, would not solve any of the problems with the system and would create new ones like massive inefficiency and debt, and would take cronyism, corporatism (and other hard-to-spell isms) and corruption to new heights. So how do you argue that the system should be kept basically as is?

(A) Get straight to the point that Social Security is basically a good idea and the changes currently favored by the Republican Party would amount to abolishing it.

(B) Start off with some vague, snotty barbs about the people writing on the other side and spend the entire first half of your argument using complicated economic terms, arguing background details no one cares about, and saying that they're right about the issue but claiming it doesn't "really" matter.

If you chose (A), then congratulations! You have a basic understanding of psychology and human nature. You know that looking smart is low on the list of usefulness in public policy debates, coming after being smart, being right and looking right.

If you chose (B), then you're a Democrat. At least, that's how Michael Morosi did it in the Campus Times. He did raise a point or two that I didn't already know about, but I wouldn't have got that far in the article if I didn't have to.

The Evil Party and the Stupid Party. The party that would cheerfully rob widows and starve orphans, and the party that would chase after them and show those thieves who's boss, dammit, if only we hadn't locked our keys in the squad car.

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