"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Theoretical Equivalent of Children . . .

There are some people who really, really dig the state. These are the kind of guys who get within fifteen feet of dudes like Ben Zycher and Alan Reynolds and start itching because they are allergic to libertarians. Maybe you've met one. It's the person who thinks you should have to pay the IRS for theoretical rent income on your guest bedroom. Because you keep it absent, you are failing to generate taxable income and should be penalized. Churches are a problem because they avoid many taxes and by golly, the religious types should just pitch in for one building and take turns using it on a schedule.

James Lileks has uncovered this thinking among those who say there is no Social Security crisis. Why? Because people are having less children, so the number of people you support in your lifetime is actually going DOWN! You see, a young family man in the past might have had to support four or five children pretty frequently, but now you've usually only got one or two kids. With less dependents, there's plenty of room for you to open up the old wallet and pay for half the retirement of theoretical gramps.

Let Lileks say it:

“Dean Baker of the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research calculates that the ratio of all workers to all dependents – including children, retirees and adults who don’t work for wages – is close to highest it has ever been. This so-called ‘total dependency,’ approach covers a multitude of unknowables, such as the cost to a worker of supporting a child vs. a Social Security beneficiary.

“But if you’re looking at the strain on today’s workers of paying to support the nonworking population, it’s much lower than it used to be,’ said Baker, author of ‘Social Security: the Phony Crisis.”

Wow. Wow. Get it? They’ve just made the costs of raising your own kids and the taxes paid to support “adults who don’t work for wages” morally equivalent, part of your general responsibility as a citizen. Apparently your obligation to fund the sunset years of Theoretical Gramps is ethically indistinguishable from your obligation to the kid across from the dinner table with your chin and last name.

If the latter is the case, it’s nice they’re out in the open about it all, no? They believe that the obligation to tend for your family is indistinguishable from your obligation to keep Theo. Gramps in meds and bingo chits. But it’s not. I have a greater obligation to my family than to strangers. Note the clumsy attempt to equate retirees with all welfare recipients – “dependents” becomes your kids, someone’s gramps, and adults who don’t work. All equal, presumably, in their claims on your pocketbook.

This is the lamest argument I’ve heard for the do-nothing-ever-nowhere-anytime approach that seems to characterize the opposition these days, but at least it tells you where some opponents of private accounts reside. It’s not Social Security they love, I suspect, it’s what it represents. It’s not socialism as they’d like, but it’s all we’ve got. In their vision of society, all obligations to one another are equal – at least that’s the presumption from which their ideas flow. You’re permitted to take of your own first - as long as you understand that this bond doesn’t have any real ideological basis for its special status. It’s a privilege we keep around until it withers on the vine.

Do I have an obligation to others? Of course. But I would prefer the freedom to express it as I see fit, thank you.

1 comment:

Jay D. Homnick said...

I would love to hear from Drs. Reynolds and Zycher on this subject, but in my layman's view, some of these attitudes are very deeply ingrained - and the notion of dislodging the false premises is probably chimerical.

For example, when WBJC was President, the newspapers quoted the First Lady, HRC, as saying that Medicare was a "generational compact". She went on to explain what she meant: the State had agreed to assume the obligation of the elderly and free their children; in return the children agreed to be taxed by the State.

I was mortified at the time that no one found this construct to be the least bit remarkable. I tried to call a few conservative talk-show hosts, but they did not find that thinking and phrasing offensive.