Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More on Steyn

Yesterday, I said that “pass-the-damn-healthcare-bill” liberals operate under the theory that, “once they get used to it, Americans will grow to love ObamaCare as much as they now love Social Security and Medicare.” Reader Ted S. responds:
“I've never met an American who ‘loves Social Security and Medicare’. I've met many, many Americans who have spent their lives being involuntarily charged for Social Security and Medicare and want their money back when the time comes. But that's a long way from ‘love’.”
He’s right. The political popularity of Social Security and Medicare doesn’t have much to do with love.  The point warrants a little more attention.

Familial love used to be an integral part of inter-generational morality. Before Social Security and Medicare, adult children had a relatively stringent moral duty to provide for their aged parents in repayment for the solicitude they’d received as children. They had a more stringent moral duty to provide for their own dependent children. Both moral duties were easier to discharge because they were typically reinforced by familial love and the mores of a censorious community. Working-age parents’ moral readiness to provide for their dependent children was further reinforced by considerations of prudence; neglected children would be less likely to provide generously for stingy parents when they were unable to provide for themselves.

Social Security, Medicare and liberal social policy in general attenuate the connection between inter-generational morality and familial love. Adult workers are now required to subsidize everybody’s parents and everybody’s children. Citizens are now expected to give impersonal moral duties and political obligations precedence over familial attachments (e.g., by surrendering tax dollars they could have spent on their own children). All other things being equal, we should therefore expect people to be more inclined to cut corners when it comes to discharging inter-generational duties.

It’s easy to state Steyn’s main thesis about the relation between demography and the sustainability of the welfare state in these terms. The modern system of inter-generational subsidies demands sufficiently high birthrates to generate a working-age population large enough to support unproductive older and younger generations. Yet when working-age people rely on the state rather than their own children to provide for their old age, it no longer pays them to have as many children, or even any children. So we should expect more working-age people to take a free ride when it comes to producing the next generation. That gives you Steyn’s congenitally insolvent welfare state, with its dependence on immigrant populations, its multiculturalism, etc.

Maybe all that’s true. But if it is, the only solution is more and better social policy.

1 comment:

Ted S. said...

Dropped by to see how you were doing and was pleasantly surprised to find myself quoted, and even more surprised to find myself agreed with.

Now let me return the compliment and say that I agree with the above post ... until the last sentence.

We seem to agree that the "social policy" (I think more honest naming would be "anti-social policy" for all the reasons given in your post, but never mind) of Social Security and Medicare are

• corrosive to families,
• corrosive to society (hence, "anti-social")
• increasingly expensive, and therefore
• unsustainable.

So it is strange then that the "solution" to cure this malady should be more of the same ("more and better social policy").

After all, Social Security, Medicare and all the subsequent amendments thereto were proposed precisely as "more and better social policy" in their own time. When they inevitably turn out not to be, it takes either willful naiveté or ruthless guile to demand your fellow citizens drink even deeper from same poisoned chalice.

I would hate to hold either opinion of you.