March 11, 2005

Ratchets...

Through all my adult life, conservatives like me have been depressed and frustrated by what seemed an insoluble dilemma. Every time Congress voted some favor or boon or subsidy or welfare payment to some group, they instantly became a constituency that would fight tenaciously to maintain that bit of pork, and would therefore tend to favor politicians who believed in big-government largess. It seemed like a ratchet that could only produce ever larger government and an ever more dependent population and a permanently entrenched Democrat party.

As an example, I used to be a bookseller, and well remember how publishers and the American Booksellers Association had a hair-trigger reaction to any proposed change to the special postal rates for books. I too benefitted from this, and might, even though I believed in smaller government, have hesitated to see this special rate abolished.

BUT, this kind of thing can work both ways. Jonathan Chait has a lefty screed on the evils of Social Security reform, and in it is this interesting item:

...As conservatives well understand, once a group of voters has been given a property right by Washington, they will never allow it to be taken away. The individual rights will be a ratchet, one that can be expanded but never contracted. The pressure for expansion would be especially strong during extended bull market runs, such as during the late '90s, when the public (and even some economists) tends to delude itself into thinking that stocks will rise forever. This is why conservatives are so insistent upon establishing individual accounts. They have uncharacteristically volunteered compromises--even offering to violate their theological opposition to tax hikes--in order to insert their opening wedge. Privatizers understand full well that any concessions they make can be legislated away in the future, while private accounts cannot...

Ha ha. The insidious creeping evil of private property!

(Thanks to Rich Lowry, whose point was that Chait is admitting that Dems oppose SS reform because people would like it!)

One Democrat talking point I noticed that should be refuted, is that private accounts would be disastrous for those who are retiring just as the market happens to go down. First, you should have pulled gradually out of the market as you approached retirement age. That's basic, and would probably be required in SS accounts. But even if not, all you have to do is work a few more years! The market will go back up. We're not a bunch of Frenchmen who shrivel up and die if forced to work past their 65th birthday.

Posted by John Weidner at March 11, 2005 4:56 PM
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