Thursday, May 05, 2005

Social Security and Welfare

Alan Reynolds is telling that old story about how recalcitrant we democrats are for not supporting the vague means testing proposal President Bush floated in last weeks press conference. After all we like helping the poor don't we?
When the president embraced the notion of having benefits grow least rapidly for high-income workers, the idea received the harshest criticism from egalitarian Democrats. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called it a vicious "attempt to turn Social Security into nothing but a program for the poor." Kerry adviser Jason Furman called Pozen's plan "a system ... in which upper-income people would have less of a stake in traditional Social Security, potentially undermining political support for it."

Pozen finds this hypocritical, since his fellow Democrats have been eager to raise the amount of salary subject to payroll tax from $90,000 to a much higher figure.

Please note, by the way, the vicious comes before the quotations marks not after them.

The truth is, Jason Furman is right. Welfare programs are much harder to defend at budget time than programs that benefit all Americans. As Krugman put it in his latest article (which I covered earlier this week), "It's an adage that programs for the poor always turn into poor programs. That is, once a program is defined as welfare, it becomes a target for budget cuts."

Matthew Yglesias, filling in at Talking Points Memo, put it this way.
Once a program becomes the narrow concern of a minority of the population -- and not just any minority, but a minority that can't afford lobbyists, doesn't enjoy access to the media, is socially isolated from the American elite, etc. -- it gets squeezed out in favor of programs whose constituents do enjoy those things.
In a way, I'd say the Right who hate Social Security have already created some of the grounds for this argument. If young people of today assume (as I did for many years) that Social Security will not be there when they retire, they will not have any interest in it. And see little value in preserving it.

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