Spine.

I usually don’t like to link to other blogs, but this post on TPM couldn’t be more right on.

If the Dems don’t show spine on social security, there’s no hope for the party.

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The Right Philosophy At The Wrong Level

Conservatism is a great personal philosophy. I myself am a tragically conservative person in many ways. I have nothing more than a speeding ticket on my record. I work in a white collar industry for businesses. I am married. While I’m no teetotaler or religious zealot, I am otherwise someone you might describe as “conservative” in the personal sense of the word. Wears a suit, short hair cut, doesn’t make a scene in public.

But socially, which is a level that transcends the sum of its parts, I believe that people need people and people should help, not hurt people. I believe that forcing people to navigate life by the law of the jungle is a farcical irony given that humanity has striven for millenia just to avoid that exact fate.

The passage of the bankruptcy bill is another example of applying a great personal philosophy to everyone at the sociological level. It is not the sign of a great person to shirk his or her debts. It’s a sign of failing responsibility to overspend with easy credit. And even assuming we had the most liberal bankruptcy system in the world, I would never encourage people to set it as a goal. Avoid it if you can.

The problem is, not everyone can, and not everyone has control over the situation. Misguided universalizations of personal situations have had a deleterious effect on public policy. Of course people should pay their debts. But when most bankruptcies occur in close proximity to a medical emergency or a divorce, one must grant that not all of the circumstances are in people’s control.

Meanwhile, nothing is done about the underlying causes of bankruptcy. Nothing is done to provide health insurance to 45 million people who dont have it. Nothing is done to limit predatory credit industry tactics.

And if credit card rates for the rest of us go down one tick after this (because of the supposed increased security of the loans), I’ll put down my keyboard.

It's Better on a Bike

I thought the worst part of bicycle riding would be navigating busy streets with a swiveling head, trying to negotiate through the careless drivers zipping past in their mega-mobiles.

It’s actually the best part.

Bicycle riding causes the mind and the body to be in a state of fluid concentration, calculating the lactic muscle build up in the quads, with the just-turned-yellow light and the dweeb in the Buick who looks like he is going to turn but isn’t signaling. It’s the air thwwrring past your ears; it’s being able to look at the still water of the dammed river; it’s the honest feel of the road.

How easy it is to drone through a dull day of work, stop-and-go your way home in the car, zap on the TV, get a little drunk and call it a night. Work, cars, booze and TV have their merit, but biking forces the mind into immediate shrewd interactive strategizing. Beyond exercise endorphins, having an active mind and body and makes you awake and happy.

Of course, it is easy to bike here – there are painted bike lanes over several bridges and major roads. This is just one of the bonuses of living in a city with no real Republicans. I had been planning on saving up some cash to buy a Hybrid once I finish my Master’s and settle into my job. I’m not going to now; just gonna’ keep my increasingly beat up Hyundai and use it for long trips as needed until it breaks. When it comes to getting around town it’s better on a bike.

Moving into checkmate on Social Security

It must be terrible to see the light at the end of a tunnel on a 70 year quest, only to have it fade into a point and then disappear.

The Republican quest to undermine all social safety nets in this country may have reached its high water mark (ironically) with Clinton’s welfare reform bill, and not with George Bush’s attempt to destroy social security.

Clinton’s bill, whether you agree with or not, was founded on the observed moral hazards involved in a free lunch. Of course, all welfare states deal with the problems of the moral hazards–other have managed them more successfully, and have found the benefits of the programs to be worth the price. Americans are bad at looking at aggregate values; we personalize everything and then extrapolate from there. If I work, so should everyone. If I work and still can’t get ahead, then people who don’t work shouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am. Not too many of us think–or even connect the problem–to the inefficiency of services when an economy is at higher than full employment (instead of just keeping the unwilling out of the way) and the other social externalities caused by extreme poverty.

Clinton’s bill was connected, at least, to observed behavior. Republicans’ plans center on an almost Cartesian neo-mechanical version of the universe that has little room for uncertainty, chaos, and change in its models. In an ideal world, I’m sure all of the economic models will tell you that it would be more efficient to not have any social safety nets–that if you could just smooth all the rough edges that the economy would equitably distribute wealth on its own.

The problem is these same Republicans are in the business of making damn sure that wealth is not equitably distributed. Look at the congressional district based boondoggles in any budget; look at the tax code’s allowance for benedict arnold corporations; look at the “death tax” rhetoric; the “flat tax” rhetoric; the new bankruptcy bill; the overall deregulation of the economy–corporations can work things out by the law of supply and demand, but people can’t. People can’t help themselves so we have to ban filthy television.

The meta-mistake I think many conservative thinkers make in their opposition to Social Securitry is believing that Social Security, or welfare programs in general, are not already responses to pre-existing inefficiencies in the distribution of wealth.

They start with the idea that the only thing that can interfere with the economy’s laissez-faire-ness is government. They make no allowance for family ties, inheritance, luck, private uses of force (i.e. the black market, the mafia, etc.)–and they also make little or no allowance for the efficiencies the government can provide like anti-trust, monetary controls, and law enforcement.

(btw, I’m not speaking of, say, Milton Friedman, or, say, Glenn Reynolds or any other economist. I’m speaking of the generic conservative that agrees with the actions taken by the Republican party–even many conservative economists support anti-trust laws, even though that party has only worked to undo them)

In the end, the Republicans real objection to Social Security is that it redistributes wealth from them–it’s a purely self-interested argument, because lord knows not a one of them will object to the continued overfunding of Red states with federal taxes, the corporate tax loopholes, or the many other privilges enjoyed by the few on the backs of the many.