Open University

They Shoot Talking Points, Don't They?


by Eric Rauchway
I'd like to root for Steven Pinker in the Pinker/Lakoff quarrel, if only because Steve's a fellow Open U faculty member. (Go, Virtual Dons!) But then he trotted out this point:

Whose Freedom? shows no trace of the empirical lessons of the past three decades, such as the economic and humanitarian disaster of massively planned economies, or the impending failure of social insurance programs that ignore demographic arithmetic.

Arithmetical scrupulosity limited only to social insurance programs deserves our skepticism, for reasons often attested but which Brad Setser puts nicely in his item, "Why is 2045 more important than 2007?":

True, projections show a deficit of something like 1.5% of US GDP in Social Security starting around 2045....

However, I don't get why a 1.5% of GDP deficit after 2045 is a bigger problem than the current 3.5% of GDP gap ... between the revenues of the government (excluding social security) and its current spending (excluding social security). The current on-budget deficit came even with more revenues from the tax on corporate profits than at any time since the 1970s....

Deficits in the non-Social Security part of the government now, usually financed by borrowing from the central banks of non-democratic countries v. smaller deficits in Social Security after 2045. Which is the bigger problem?...

And I haven't even mentioned that Social Security strikes me as the best--indeed virtually the only--insurance most Americans have against the risk that unexpected volatility in their pre-retirement wages will lead to large falls in their retirement income. Political realists who favor free trade really should support more--not less--Social Security....

One could go further, as Brad DeLong has several times done, arguing that

If Social Security and Medicare were strictly demographic problems--that is, more retirees living longer--neither one would be a huge problem. You can pick your own preferred solution, but even in the worst case some modest combination of benefit cuts and revenue increases phased in over a period of decades would solve everything. The real problem isn't Social Security or Medicare per se, it's healthcare costs in general. That's the problem that needs to be solved, not healthcare for old people alone.

Now, as far as "massively planned political economies" go, if George Lakoff really supports those, he's on his own....

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