Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The conservative left, part II

I had wanted to post something a few weeks ago in response to the glut of articles praising social security in lieu of the government program's 75th anniversary, but never got around to it. But after my last post about "the conservative left" it occurred to me that's there's no better example of this reactionary conservatism than the left's support for social security. This isn't just general support for a government run retirement system, but specific support for the American system, as it currently exists. Because social security has been such a rousing success, alternative methods of supporting the elderly need not be considered.

This adherence to tradition, albeit a government tradition in this case is the very nature of the conservative mind. For the forward thinking, the fact that the original social security program was designed at a time when many more workers would be working to support many few retirees should be reason enough to consider perhaps drastic changes to the mechanics of the program. But to those intent on preserving tradition, all the program needs is a few minor tweaks.

There's something to be said that a program may be in need of changing when it takes over 12&1/2 percent of the income of people like my wife and myself who are trying to start our own business. That's over 12&1/2 percent, before income taxes, going to support the elderly regardless of their wealth or their ability to support themselves. But social security proponents are so much in favor of the program as a program for all elderly that they'd consider raising the payroll tax cap (which I believe sits somewhere slightly above $100,000) well before cutting off benefits to the elderly who don't need them.

The traditional narrative is that the big government left wants to help the poor and down-trodden and the free market right wants to reduce government at all costs (including the well-being of the poor), but the nature of the debate doesn't fit that narrative precisely because of the left's conservative defense of social security.


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