By the way, wouldn’t privatized Social Security [be] the same sort of unconstitutional mandate as health insurance is?
If by “privatized Social Security” we mean “forced individual transfers, not to the government, but to a menu of private banks and investment firms,” then yes, I think it probably would have the very same constitutional problems as Obamacare.
Compelling someone to buy a product seems to be a problem in both cases, at least by my reading of the Constitution. There might be some finesse that I’m missing here, but I doubt it. (Not that liberals are at all sincere in advocating this view, or even particularly interested in exploring how we might govern under it. But a fair point is a fair point.)
The trouble for conservative Social Security wonks is that no one will tolerate the obvious solution — let’s just eliminate Social Security, except insofar as it functions as a means-tested retirement program for the indigent, plus a disability insurance program. These two, if taken alone, would be humane, decent, relatively manageable welfare programs. With appropriate safeguards, they would not become the bloated, budget-busting, inefficient middle-class entitlement Ponzi scheme that we have today.
To hoist liberals with their own petard here: For the typical worker, Social Security earns a really, really lousy rate of return. In plain, self-interested English: That means it’s a bad deal for your core constituency. Its payroll deduction is also among the most regressive taxes that we have.
So by my ideological commitments, it’s a bad idea to privatize it, at least in the sense that that word had under the last administration. But by your ideological commitments, the status quo is about as bad. Surely we can agree to curtail the middle-class forced savings aspect of Social Security and let ordinary, non-poor folk save on their own. Right? Um… right?
The real problem is that, besides Social Security’s two relatively reasonable welfare aspects, the program’s popularity is also propped up by a giant pile of paternalism. Already, odds are that someone or other has stopped reading this post and is now commenting furiously to the effect that most people don’t know how to save and that the government just has to do it for them. Other people, I will be told, aren’t as wise or prudent as The Great Jason Kuznicki, who would retire to Bermuda even if all he did for a living was screw the caps on toothpaste tubes.
Well, nuts to all that. I don’t believe it. I just don’t. Where, for starters, is the evidence? And how long will liberals really want to say such damning, ill-supported things about the American people anyway? I sorta actually believe in the American people, and I think the middle class can provide for themselves. Particularly if all the non-rich folk out there get roughly 15% more takehome pay to do it with.
That very reasonable option being off the table, some conservatives were tempted toward the paternalism so dear to the liberals — we’ll force people to save, just like the liberals want, and then our plan will be more palatable. Then conservatives learned, much to their embarrassment, that it’s only a good thing to liberals if it’s the government that keeps the money.