June 2, 2005

More on the birds of Mauritius....

Sometimes you encounter a smart person (in this case both very smart and admirable) writing something totally preposterous. Such things can be psychologically revealing. Like a kind of Freudian Slip. A friend quoted this:

...I’m convinced that social control is a lot of the motivation behind the attack on Social Security. It’s a lot easier to be brave and independent and entrepreneurial if there isn’t a little voice in your head telling you that if you screw up, you’ll die in a poorhouse. That goes double if you’re female, or a person of color, or a member of some other deprecated category. Reinstating the fear of an impoverished old age would do wonders to clear the field for well-funded white guys with good connections, and thin out those pesky innovators who do so much to make life less predictable for large corporations.
---Teresa Nielsen Hayden

It's easy to point out why this is deranged: Just ask an entrepreneur or an innovator if our Social Security system gives them a confidence they would otherwise lack (Don't ask while they have their mouth full, you'll get stuff all over you). People who are likely to be successful as entrepreneurs are smart, hardworking and ambitious. So, they are already doing well before they become entrepreneurs. They aren't worried about poverty, they know they can always get another good job. THAT'S why they can take risks, not because they are counting on some crummy $1,500 a month from SS.

Secondly, I presume that "attack on Social Security" refers to Private Accounts--that's what usually gets Democrats frothing about "risk." However, there are people called financial advisors (and if you can't afford one, they've written books. Thousands of books). And every damn one of them will tell you that younger workers should put their retirement money mostly in the stock market! (in a diversified portfolio, of course) Long term, it's the safest investment, not the riskiest! Ms. Nielson Haydon herself (or her pension plan) has put her retirement savings into the market...unless she's crazy.

AND, suppose it is true that some would-be innovator is too nervous about the poor house to concentrate on his widgets. He could invest his SS private account into the very same government bonds that are in the so-called Social Security Trust Fund! (And he'd still earn about 3-times what regular SS will pay!)

I sometimes meet entrepreneurs--this area is thick with them. And Ms. Nielson Haydon must surely have met some too. They don't worry about Social Security, they worry about winning the next Ironman. And innovators--can she possibly have never met one? To imagine they would give up their dreams because of Social Security?

I suspect we have here the same issue I was writing about in the previous post. I sense (and of course this is armchair theorizing. No tissue samples have been taken) existential panic. Liberals, especially of my generation, absorbed their underlying political world-view thoughtlessly. They never had to defend it in argument, because everyone around believed the same things. (I was there. Berkeley class of '72) And now, more and more, they are confronted with evidence that their world-view is wrong, and much of what they believe is false. The result is panic. Denial. Conspiracy theories. They are not coping. Flightless birds I called them, unable to deal with new predators.

The quote reeks of a certain world-view. "We're the party of the young, the idealistic, the brave...women, minorities, innovators." Sorry, that world, that party is GONE. That picture was only partly true when it gelled in the 60's, and now it's not true at all. More and more, excitement and youth and reform and idealism are found with the Republicans. And the Democrats are now the party led by old Kennedys, old "civil rights leaders," old feminists, old union bosses, old hippies and Yippies, all funded by old billionaires and creepy Trial Lawyers. And all reactionary, and opposed to reform and new ideas. Opposed to women and minority judges, and to spreading democracy. Opposed to reforming public schools (the real civil rights struggle of our time).

If your political philosophy is based on ideas and principles, you can change with the times. Even change parties. But if you base your politics on a world-view that's not negotiable, not-to-be-examined, when times change you are in trouble. If your self image is based on cartoonish pictures like "we're the good guys, they're the stodgy white guys," then changing times will leave you stranded nowhere.

Practice questions...

  1. If we just abolished SS, entrepreneurial energy would probably increase by an order of magnitude. Defend or refute.
  2. Leaf through a few recent issues of Forbes. Discuss the picture presented above of corporations being "well-connected white guys" who want to stifle change and innovation.
  3. More and more we find that both corporate management and the innovators who upset them are Asian. Discuss how they can be shoe-horned into the category of White Oppressors.
  4. Do people of the "deprecated categories" actually have twice the worry about ending up in the poorhouse?
  5. Do those "deprecated categories" still have any real-world meaning?
  6. Of course there are rational reasons for Dems to panic over SS reform. Discuss.
Posted by John Weidner at June 2, 2005 7:53 AM
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