The (Lost) Art of Democratic Argument – A Day Trip (I)

by A. Jay Adler on August 13, 2010
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The other day I posted a TED video of Harvard’s Michael Sandel on “The Lost Art of Democratic Debate,” or argument. Today, we’ll look at some random (hmn) examples of what he might have been talking about.

Here is Sharron Angle, Tea Party challenger to Nevada’s, and Democratic Party Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, from the Las Vegas Sun’s Nevada Wonk:

Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle chalks up her shift — some say flip-flop — on Social Security to gathering more information.

Angle said today during the opening of her North Las Vegas headquarters that she never wanted to privatize Social Security. Instead, she said, she wants to “personalize” it.

But during a debate in May on the public affairs show “Face to Face With Jon Ralston,” Angle said, “We need to phase Medicare and Social Security out in favor of something privatized.”

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has assailed his opponent for the comment. He opposes Social Security privatization.

President George W. Bush also tried to privatize a portion of the Social Security program in 2005. The move was defeated, and Republicans saw their popularity plummet.

I, myself, in creative contexts, have played with connotative distinctions between “private” and “personal,” the former suggesting a possible secretiveness, as in Merriam-Webster’s third definition, that is not connoted, properly, by the latter. But none of this is relevant to the debate over Social Security accounts, and, really, we don’t want politicians and the government playing semantic games with us, do we? Yet they do, all the time, don’t they? Even “reformist” Tea Party candidates, who the moment they run for office and wish to win decide they will treat “the people” like idiots – as we see above in the verbal shell game switch between words.

Then there is the the not entirely negligible matter of logic. The origins of Social Security, we know, are in the Great Depression. What we are just possibly managing to live through is the closest thing to it since. If you have an IRA or some kind of 503B or 547 retirement account, not to ignore any non-retirement investments, did you notice how their balances did not soar during the economic meltdown of 2008-09? Had it been privatized – oh, goodness, even if it had been personalized - that is what would have happened to your Social Security account. Some security. Not very social.

AJA

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2 comments

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff August 13, 2010 at 8:06 am

So instead, we’ll just keep giving it to our (very social) government, who will continue to spend its way into oblivion so that those of us who will not be retiring in the next couple of years will have absolutely nothing to show for all of our contributions. How very secure.

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A. Jay Adler August 15, 2010 at 7:55 am

Geoff, you are making an ideological argument, not an empirical one. SS has functioned successfully for 75 years. Many businesses don’t last that long. Should we scrap private enterprise? Any enterprise, even lives, run into difficulties, downturns, along the way. Problems can be corrected; they have been before with SS. You are making arguable predictions – a very extreme one – about the future. I make the contrary – that we will patch up and improve SS. Conservatively, I want to stick with what has worked for three quarters of a century. If you want to make an ideological argument, that’s fine. Let’s acknowledge the ideologies at work and offer the empirical support for how they address the particular issue. I’ve offered some empirical evidence of how a social safety net program like SS, invested in the market, provides precisely the contrary result from what we desire.

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