Tuesday, January 11, 2005

In the past couple weeks I have spent a good deal of time paying attention to the Social Security elimination debate. The thing that bothers me the most is not the mendacity of the administration, with their record I think it is a given that you can not trust their rhetoric, but the fact that they have managed to so overwhelmingly define the terms of the debate.

In case after case the President's initiative is referred to as "reform" when it is no such thing. To turn over Social Security funds to private control is to effectively eliminate the program. Their is a dedicated tax that workers pay to help support retirees. In time, we will become the retirees and we will receive support from the program. Social Security is not a retirement program. It is not an IRA, a 401k or any other type of investment program. Understanding this is key to understanding the conservative goal.

Social Security is the shining jewel of the New Deal. It is an enormous social entitlement program that works efficiently although it requires periodic adjustment to remain efficient. It is enormously popular with most voters and given the coming boomer retirement wave, it will likely gain even more defenders. To the conservative faction in this country, a successful social program runs counter to everything they believe. This anti-government mentality will lead them to destroy one of the truly successful programs in U.S. history.

Conservatives believe in the primacy of the private sector and market forces. Well, that is what they say they believe. In fact, conservatives are more than willing to allow government intervention in the form of business subsidies. They get around their contradictory stance by stating that this is necessary to ensure that the economy works and is the only form of intervention allowed by the constitution. As President Coolidge is credited with saying, "the business of business is business."

While it can be easily demonstrated that business subsidies can contribute to increased business, there is nothing to indicate that subsidised education, health care and other social interventions don't have an effect on increased productivity, sales and growth.

I think conservatives like to think of business subsidies as "clean", while social programs are "dirty". Helping people is much more difficult than giving a business a tax break. Yet while conservatives cite the New Deal and Great Society programs as financial boondoggles that do nothing but subsidize laziness (usually among minority groups who, though they don't like to mention, usually have the highest hurdles to success), U.S. economic success since the time of the New Deal has been historic.

In addition to that, the metric by which modern countries are measured when it comes to success is not merely the GDP. Life-span, child mortality, access to health care, education levels and employment are all used to measure a country's health. In those categories as well the U.S. took-off following the New Deal.

A frequent example the conservatives cite in terms of business success is the post-WWII boom. The U.S. economy exploded following the war. Yet it was not primarily government efforts that propelled the success. Following the war, U.S. industries were some of the only left standing in the world. Europe and Japan were basically flattened and it would take years and enormous U.S. financial support to get them up and running again. In those years the U.S. economy was, naturally, able to dominate in every conceivable industry. This was not the result of genius planning by a pro-business politicians (though the Marshall Plan was), but the natural result of a combination of ideal factors; new and efficient factories, new technology an enormous workforce and an enormous global demand. Historians and economists have often mentioned that a period of time such as that is unlikely to be seen again.

The government has an interest in supporting business through its policies. It also has an interest in providing for the people in this country who work the jobs and buy the goods that keep the economy humming along. To ignore one at the expense of the other is bad for both.

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