The Economist on Social Security

THE ECONOMIST ON SOCIAL SECURITY….Brad DeLong is right to be annoyed by the Economist’s latest foray into Social Security analysis. It’s weirdly typical, though. As good a magazine as the Economist is, its editors are schizophrenic when it comes to figuring out what they think of George Bush. The entire thrust of the piece is that Bush’s privatization proposal might be OK as long as he listens to criticism and changes it in nearly every particular ? even though this is something they know perfectly well won’t happen since they’ve editorialized about this shortcoming of Bush’s repeatedly over the past four years.

The last paragraph gives the game away:

Note that changes such as these ? delaying the retirement age, raising the payroll cap, and so on ? are the ones that will actually stop Social Security going bust. In that regard, Mr Bush’s new retirement accounts are no help. Yet this misses the point. Giving people greater control of their savings is desirable in itself: that is why private accounts deserve their place in this reform. It is wrong that in the world’s most advanced economy so many retirees should rely so heavily on the state. That idea is at the heart of Mr Bush’s ?ownership society? ? and it is worth supporting.

In other words, there’s no real crisis, the details of Bush’s plan are all wrong, and it does nothing to rescue Social Security anyway. But we support it for the same reason George Bush does: because it’s one of our ideological hobbyhorses.

And if it eventually becomes law as one of his usual bloated, policy-free, crony friendly monstrosities, they’ll be able to point back to this editorial and piously say, We’d never have supported doing it that way. We endorsed the proper version of privatization.

And then they’ll move on to enthusiastic support of his next plan.