Jewish World Review March 24, 2005 / 13 Adar II, 5765
Differences in political libidos
The President is out on the hustings. Yes, he remains on the campaign
trail. He is supposed to be taking a break in Crawford, Texas, but his
schedule shows him flying out across the country almost daily,
campaigning. What is he campaigning for? The answer is Social Security
reform. Here in Washington the press has if anything understated how
much George W. Bush cares about this issue. One might well ask why he
cares so ardently about it. Surely it is not as glamorous as defeating
tyrants abroad, a task he has well in hand. Yet only the author of
Social Security, Franklin Roosevelt, has invested so much intensity in
securing the future of the nation's retirees. GWB is an unusual Republican.
I say he is unusual because he has such an ardor for politics. Most
Republicans do not. In fact, a major difference between Democrats and
Republicans is to be found in their political libidos. The Democrat has
the political libido of a nymphomaniac. The Democrat politicizes
practically everything and lusts for it madly. The Republican has the
political libido of a eunuch. That is why today Social Security reform
is in trouble. Only this Republican President and a handful of fellow
Republicans are truly engaged in the fight. Had the Democrats decided to
reform Social Security, the process would be well on its way. Back in
the 1990s, when it was popular with both Democrats and Republicans to
recognize that the system needed reform, action toward reform was
heating up. President Clinton had put together a bi-partisan group to
reform the system. But other matters overtook him, and so now it has
fallen to Republicans to push for reform.
That means the reform movement is in trouble. The Republican political
libido is part of the problem as is the Democrats' political libido. The
Republicans do not have the President's ardor. The Democrats see a
larger political advantage to deny the Republicans a victory on Social
Security and are opposing the President day and night, week in and week
out. And there is one other matter. The Democrats of the present, that
is to say the left-wing Democrats, have no belief in growth economics.
It is growth economics that will preserve the security of the nation's
The current Social Security system is an unfunded liability. It is
without investments to back it up. It is headed toward bankruptcy or
toward becoming a tremendous burden on the economy. David Malpass, the
chief economist of Bear Stearns and for my money one of the country's
sagest economic minds, argues that Social Security reform ought to be
selling itself it is that desirable. In the April issue of The
American Spectator he offers eight reasons. Allow me to pass along four.
With expanded use of personal accounts there will be "less risk, more
benefits." Malpass goes on to argue that the insolvency of the present
system "creates an immense risk for the young." As for benefits, "the
current benefit system offers an assumed return of 3% per year, but that
is completely dependent on the beneficiary living long enough to
collect." Whereupon Malpass cites "Jeremy Siegel, one of the world's
experts on long-term equity performance," who "forecasts real equity
returns (before inflation) at 6% per year over the next 44
years....Personal accounts clearly offer the likelihood of more benefits
than the current system, without the risk of the government voting them
Another obvious benefit from Social Security reform is job growth. Says
Malpass, "The current Social Security system imposes a gigantic tax on
jobs 12.4% of pre-tax income including the employer and employee
portions." By reducing the tax and allowing workers to invest more of
their income, jobs will be created and the economy's growth rate will
increase. A third benefit from Social Security reform will be an
increase in "fairness" for the "frail or minorities, who tend to die
earlier and lose their benefits." Moreover, the present system is
"unfair to those who want to work past 62 or start working young, since
the benefit formulas...give minimal extra benefit for working more
years." Finally, Malpass sees Social Security reform freeing Americans
from "dependence on Washington. Retirees now rely on Washington largesse
for their checks," which distracts elections from wider issues to
questions of Social Security's benefits. "For now, every election has to
be first a vote on the size of Social Security payments, then a vote on
So it is time to get Social Security out of politics and onto an
economically sound basis. That is Malpass's message and it ought to be
the Republicans' too. It ought to even be the Democrats' message. Yet
their political libidos will not allow it. Thus we have this one great
campaign being waged by the President. He could benefit from reading the
whole of Malpass's argument.
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