Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Colloquy between the Unrepentant Individual and Me

The comments section of Tuesday's post contains a major back-and-forth between me and Brad Warbiany who posts a wonderful blogsite The Unrepentant Individual . I am reprinting the entire exchange here, and then I will respond (sort of) in the next posting. I've edited out the repetitions and complaints regarding my choice of a bad Haloscan option. As soon as I figure out my passwords, I will contact Haloscan!

When you say "save" social security, and I notice you use quotes, I wonder what you mean?

There are two ways, AFAIK, for a liberal to respond to the system. The first is to deny the problem. Assuming that you agree that the system needs to be "saved", that is not your position. The second way is to propose small changes to the system to shore up aspects of its finances long-term. This involves such things as increasing the retirement age, increasing taxes, changing the way benefits are indexed, removing the cap on payroll taxes, etc. A combination of these aspects could make social security soluble.

You say that those of us on the right don't want to "save" the system. Inasmuch as our goal is a fundamental change to the entire social security system, you are right. The reason for this, is that we see the system as it currently stands as extremely inefficient. When a cost-benefit analysis is viewed, it is an enormous drain on millions of people to ensure that a few seniors are given a monthly stipend barely beyond that of poverty.

I don't want to save that system, I want to improve that system. We see eye to eye on the fact that we want a system that ensures our senior citizens a dignified retirement. However, I postulate that our current system is barely able to accomplish that, and does it at such an enormous cost that we can do better.
Brad Warbiany | Email | Homepage | 02.22.05 - 6:57 pm | #


No. I am not talking about people like you. You think the economic doesn't work. I think you're wrong, but maybe you're not. The number of people like you, who believe that the system needs to be fixed so that the numbers work, can now be counted on one hand.

When you see things like the AARP ad, and other indicia of the weekend, you have to realize that the conversation has moved to a more radical point.

I have come to believe that the decision makers in this Administration believe that a government-based retirement system is wrong -- as in "immoral"

Therefore, the Administration is in fundamental conflict with anyone who believes that the system is worth saving in any real respect.

Now you see the Administration's "scorched earth" policy, as manifest in the AARP ads.

I have no idea how you can have a dialogue over an issue of morality. I do not know how you can have a conversation where one side says that if you are for Social Security you must th
| Email | Homepage | 02.22.05 - 7:52 pm | #

I'd normally be mad at someone for putting words in my mouth, and yet you're doing the exact opposite.

As a matter of principal, I am a libertarian nearly bordering on anarchism. I don't believe the state has any moral right to enforce a retirement system. I think society has a moral duty to protect it's least fortunate, but don't believe this is the government's job.

That being said, I'm a pragmatist. I realize that my views are not highly shared among most people. At the very least, I want to see that our social programs are run in an economically sane manner. My arguments are intended to ensure that if we are going to have a quasi-socialist state, that we at least do what we can to run it efficiently.
Brad Warbiany | Email | Homepage | 02.22.05 - 10:36 pm | #

Actually, I was trying not to put words in your mouth at all, which is why I tried not to focus on your specific points. I am sorry if I failed in my task.

What I am saying is that the main political argument now, in my opinion, is being carried on between those who want destroy the system completely, on philosophical grounds, and those who out of necessity, are going to need to defend against destruction by saying that everything is perfect.

It is also possible, as I said in my last response, that the argument would be held on moral grounds, and I have no idea how these two diametrically opposed moral value systems are going to possibly be able to talk to each other. Needless to say, I believe I walk with God. Needless to say, those on the other side believe I have lost my way.

Your arguments over the last several weeks have been, on the whole, pragmatic. Occasionally you will say something idealistic, such as

"I think society has a moral duty to protect it's least fortunate, but don't believe this is the government's job."

I think you have more support for that position than any pragmatic economic argument you might make.

I think you are wrong, but I do not have a way to prove it to you that you would accept.

It's the basic questions, beginning with:

If society has the moral obligation, and the government should not be the agent for discharging that obligation, whose obligation should it be?

Why do you think someone other than the elected government can deliver services in a way that would avoid the problems that you think government causes?
| Email | Homepage | 02.23.05 - 12:08 am | #


First question: My thought is that one of the major problems with government is that it is not voluntary. I believe, and I think most Americans believe, that helping our fellow man is an incredibly important act of virtue. America has consistently held itself out to be an absolute leader in charitable contributions, even on top of all the money paid to government.

I think it is society's job, but while I might try to convince you to help others, I don't think I have a right to stick my hand in your pocket and force you to. I believe private charity can and will step up, help those in need, and be fully funded by Americans who, like me, believe that it is our job to do so. When the government steals from me for the same purpose, I think they steal more than just money, they pull "virtue" out of the equation.
Brad Warbiany | Email | Homepage | 02.23.05 - 12:19 pm | #


Second question: This is related to the comment you left on my site about accountability.

I believe private charity is more flexible, more accountable, and more efficient than the government.

Flexibility: Federal government specifically, is simply a "one size fits all" solution. Show up at the door, take your check, move along. People are individuals with individual problems. I think private charity has more intention and more ability to take an individual approach and cure problems, rather than treat symptoms.

Accountability: Who is the federal government accountable to? Not voters, with the gerrymandering problems we have. Not the recipients, because they have no power to speak out. Not their funding, because people who are spending other people's money rarely worry that much about how it's spent. Private charities rely on voluntary contributions. As such, they need to provide results and honesty, or their contributions will be put to more reputable charities. Government gets their cut of your income without any choice, nor do individuals have any recourse for removing that funding if they don't like the system it supports.

Efficiency: Much like the above argument, this comes down to an OPM (other people's money) issue. When you're spending OPM, efficiency goes out the window. When there is no competitive market providing services, efficiency goes out the window. When oversight and control is farther and farther away from the people providing money and the people providing the service, efficiency goes out the window.

Simply put, I just don't think the government is capable of living up to the promises they make. And a system outside government won't be hampered by all the same problems, but will have competition and inherent feedback loops to ensure better performance. Note that I don't say perfect perform

Note that I don't say perfect performance, because that won't be acheived either way. But I think the market is more perfect than the government.


BTW I cross-posted my responses at my site. Hope you don't mind.