September 18, 2003

Common tactics

Interesting article from Jacob Levy over at the The New Republic: Ducking the Question. He points out that the same strategy is used in many political debates (from volunteer army vs. draft, to school choice, to entitlement programs, to tax policy):

The general form of these arguments ("lucky duckies" as well as the arguments from the left) is: If we subject everyone to the same rules, institutions, or conditions, then there will be political demand to make them fair or otherwise tolerable. If we only subject some people to them, then some may be unfairly singled out or burdened; there will be opportunities to divide the citizenry, play the interests of some against those of others, and to undermine the overall desirable outcome. The only detail that changes from argument to argument is the class to which one tries to yoke people--the class of taxpayers, the class of potential soldiers, the class of recipients of government checks, etc.

Though he's not trying to defend the Wall Street Journal op-ed that ruffled so many feathers (the "lucky ducky" one about the lower-class workers who pay no taxes), I'm sure it won't go over well that he's likening it to all of the other arguments — and claiming that they are equally flawed. But he does point to the political effectiveness of this tactic, regardless of its defensability.

It's a nice insight into the political invulnerability of Social Security — precisely because it treats everyone nearly the same and doesn't discriminate (i.e. use means testing to take into account need) it's incredibly popular.

Posted by richard at September 18, 2003 06:32 PM

Missed the op ed piece, but your description of why social security works is right on.

Posted by: Dick at September 18, 2003 08:46 PM