Free Markets, Free People

Why the Right Should Embrace “Fairness” in Entitlement Reform

This is a departure from my previous two posts; it’s not about a particular group that has pulled away from the GOP.  Romney pulled a slightly larger share of older voters than McCain did, even if fewer total turned out than in previous years.  That the Romney-Ryan ticket did this while proposing entitlement reform is a substantial feat, but it did involve watering down the reforms a great deal.  For example, Republicans now make a habit of promising that nobody under age 55 will be affected by their reforms.

Why make this concession when the lion’s share of the fiscal problem is current retirees and the many, many Baby Boomers who will retire soon?  Boomers vote, of course, but what motivates them?  I don’t think most seniors could bring themselves to act on straightforward greed; I think they’re voting based on a particular concept of fairness.

Specifically, they paid into the system over a long career, and they believe they should be able to get back what they paid in.  And even though current Medicare beneficiaries get two to six times as much in benefits as they paid in (if this is right), only about a third of Americans think Medicare beneficiaries get any more than they paid in.  As long as they think that way, they’ll continue to oppose means testing and raising the retirement age by wide margins.

You might be tempted to say that our task is to educate them, but it’s much easier to persuade people based on their current beliefs than to convince them of inconvenient facts first.  Republicans basically conceded that cutting benefits to older voters at all would be unfair, and pushed complicated plans that few people aside from Paul Ryan can competently defend.

But we might be even bolder if we just hugged that core fairness principle tighter.

September’s Reason-Rupe poll (PDF – fixed link) asked Americans if they’d support cuts to their own Medicare benefits “if you were guaranteed to receive benefits at least equal to the amount of money that you and your employer contribute into the system.”  It was a blowout: 68% yes, 25% no.  Three quarters of Tea Partiers said yes.

At a stroke, you could slash Medicare in half with a reform based on that principle.  (Their August 2011 poll suggested similar support for applying the principle to Social Security, but the cuts would be much more modest.)

Centering a reform on that principle achieves steeper cuts and seems easier to defend than what Paul Ryan is trying.  Because if Democrats fought us on it, they’d have to make the wildly unpopular case for entitlements as redistribution programs rather than as “insurance” or “savings.”

The kind of coalition the Right needs for sustainable entitlement reform has to include people who highly value fairness (or, as Jonathan Haidt would call it, proportionality).  If we want the project of liberty to be successful, we have to pluck on other heartstrings.

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32 Responses to Why the Right Should Embrace “Fairness” in Entitlement Reform

  • Shorter Pick: we can beat the Collective by adopting their arguments, perversion of language, etc.  Oh, and they will accede to our co-opting their mendacity.

    • If their arguments support a much lower level of entitlement spending, then yes, I’m all for using their arguments against them.  Why aren’t you?

      • “Their arguments” have gotten us those entitlement programs.  Do you see a flaw here?  Bueller…????

        • Status quo: entitlements.  Republicans attempting: watered-down cuts.  Possible revision: faster, deeper cuts that are more politically sustainable, because perception is important to political reality.

          Don’t see a flaw in that.  Unless, of course, you have an idea that’s both politically viable and more effective than what Paul Ryan or I proposed.

          • Possible revision: faster, deeper cuts that are more politically sustainable

            Stress “possible”.  As in “interstellar travel is possible”.
            All Ryan failed to do is call his plan “The Ryan Fairness Plan”.  Would’ve worked WONDERS!  THAT would have stripped the demagogues of ALLLLLL their ammo!

          • The total collapse of royal authority in 1783 had a good result.  Maybe history will rhyme?

  • Yeah, great.  Take a misperception of the Medicare payouts to trick people to sign up for a slash in their benefits.  That won’t backfire. 

    Increasingly I’ve come to the conclusion that some ‘libertarians’ are really just shit disturbers or even saboteurs of the Right.  They hide behind zealot-like allegience to the ideals for both the air of credibility and also encouraging an abandoment of common sense on the right.   If they can’t embarrass the right for not being purists they spin other self-destructive recommendations for the right to follow.  

    I’ve seen nothing today to diswade me from that conclusion. 

    You and friends are here today to leverage the frustration many feal in hopes you can sway them impuslively to any change.  Its obvious you’re using the pulpet here to try to balkanize the right even further.  Bravo for not delaying one bit on this.  You’re all on message today with the same message I get from the MSM on the topic.  What a coincidense. 

    • If a lot of people seem to support the current level of entitlements due to a misperception cultivated by Democrats, and educating voters is difficult (which it is), why not put forth a proposal that forces Democrats to do the educating?  It’s not a trick, it’s clarifying an aspect about entitlement benefits that is very hard to publicly defend: that people are getting out way more than they ever put in.

      If you prefer another method of voter education, or another entitlement proposal that is more politically and fiscally viable, please let us all know.

      Also: this comment system comes with a spellchecker.  You may want to use it.

  • “September’s Reason-Rupe poll (PDF) asked Americans if they’d support cuts to their own Medicare benefits “if you were guaranteed to receive benefits at least equal to the amount of money that you and your employer contribute into the system.”  It was a blowout: 68% yes, 25% no.  Three quarters of Tea Partiers said yes.
    At a stroke, you could slash Medicare in half with a reform based on that principle.  (Their August 2011 poll suggested similar support for applying the principle to Social Security, but the cuts would be much more modest.)”
    I seriously doubt that will work.  Even cuts to the rate of growth of government are called draconian by the legacy media.  Any actual cuts will be portrayed as throwing granny to the wolves.

    • I would love to see the media and Democrats explain, repeatedly, that guaranteeing that beneficiaries will get back everything they and their employer paid in results in a “draconian cut.”  Let them defend it until they’re hoarse, and they’ll have started to chip away at one of the main pillars of popularity for universal entitlements.

      A lot of Americans just want a square deal.

      • Yes, and, a lot of Americans don’t know the planned outlays far exceed what they put in.
        That’s the trick of pay as you go entitlements, and why politicians love them.
         

  • Well, I do find this to be an interesting argument.

  • Buyer:  I see you have your car for sale.  I’ll  give you 45 hundred dollars for it.
    Seller:  45 hundred? I won’t take a penny less than 3 thousand dollars
    Buyer:  But 45 hundred is more than 3 thousand.
    Seller:  Don’t try to swindle me, it’s 3 thousand, take it or leave it.
    Buyer:  Can’t pull the wool over your eyes, 3 thousand it is then.

  • What about the interest on the money they paid in? Or the lost opportunities that money might have been used for 30 years ago or what have you? Is it possible to quantify what’s owed them if the deal they agreed to us changed?

    • “Is it possible to quantify what’s owed them”
       
      Of course it is. Any half competent accountant can do it. Insurance companies do it daily.

  • “September’s Reason-Rupe poll (PDF) asked Americans if they’d support cuts to their own Medicare benefits “if you were guaranteed to receive benefits at least equal to the amount of money that you and your employer contribute into the system.”  It was a blowout: 68% yes, 25% no.  Three quarters of Tea Partiers said yes.”
     
    I’m willing to bet large sums of money that most of the respondents in that poll had no idea what they were really agreeing with.  Try adding on “…even if that meant you’d run out of medical benefits 10 years after you retire” and see what happens.

    • I’d hardly bet against that, since I pointed out in my post that only about a third of Americans think benefits exceed past contributions at all, a stat that comes from the same poll.  But the beauty is that Lefties don’t want to educate the public on this point even if they could!

      There are two main reasons for this: (A.) in politics, if you’re explaining you’re losing, and (B.) the knowledge that benefits vastly exceed past contributions undermines much of what makes those programs so popular: it makes them seem less fair, less sustainable, and less like savings – more like redistribution/welfare.  So no matter how much Republicans push this, directly responding is a lose-lose prospect for Lefties.  Heck, even an internal debate about it is bad for Lefties.

      That’s especially true for younger voters, who think that these programs won’t be there at all when they’re old enough to be eligible, but say they’d be willing to accept tax hikes to preserve those programs.  If Republicans came along and offered this guarantee as a key aspect of a reform without any tax hikes, that would seem like a square deal compared to what they think they’re getting.

      • If the GOP did that I’ll bet the same large sums of money that the Dems would then present that as a cut in benefits – which in fact it would be – and portray the GOP as being unconcerned about grandma’s healthcare.  I don’t think it would be the slam dunk you think it would be.  The Dems are very good at this game.  They will go the mat every time.
        Long term prospects for fiscal sanity require a majority of the populace to be educated, reasonable, and realistic.  Someone has to do that educating and it’s not going to be the Dems.  Someone needs to rise above the bullshit, vacuous political advertising and play at a different level.  I don’t pretend this is easy or that it will come anytime soon.  I fully expect the country to get far worse before it gets better.

        • I keep hoping the GOP will start to act like the adult in the room because the Dems will not.  Like an adult, you rise well above the behavior of the children behaving badly but at the same time you don’t let them get away with their nonsense.  The GOP doesn’t seem to be able to do this.  They either stoop to their level or the let the children get away with it.  Both bad.

  • Medicare is a cultural problem first.  Too many people think – especially when it’s themself or a loved one – that no expense should be spared in treatment, no matter how old and no matter the prognosis.  Given the state of medicine it can’t work.  When we can fix nearly anything cheaply then it will work.

  • At the very least, by broaching this subject in this manner, the media would have to explain to people that they paid very little in for what they are planned to receive.
    Most people would be shocked to know they only paid in 1/2 of what they were going to get.
    You could combine this with a Ryan style voucher by making that an option as well.

  • I’ll tell you something. I have known for over 20 years that social sec., etc, pays back more than I pay in. So have a lot of other people.  Probably including a few people included in the poll you cite. Any moron with a couple of semesters of accounting or mathematics can calculate the rate of return. Am I willing to cut my benefits? Hell no, and I doubt that I am alone. Particularly if the political hacks OF BOTH PARTIES who created this system and kept quiet about the problems get to keep all their goodies.
     
    You rely entirely too much on polls. Judging from your writings that I have read, I doubt that you have the education or experience to calculate the actual relevance or validity of a poll. Also logic and judgement.

    • Look, a lot of people don’t know these things. They haven’t done the math, it’s difficult to get them to do the math, and the Left doesn’t want them to do it, because they deliberately fostered this misperception of Social Security and Medicare to make it more popular than welfare.

      The perception of people who haven’t done the math shapes our political reality. A political coalition can either try to educate everyone (which is difficult) or work with people’s existing beliefs.

      • “Look, a lot of people don’t know these things.”

        Then tell them. It really ain’t rocket science, and it really ain’t that difficult. One paragraph in one of the multi-page junk mail we get from political organizations should do it. Perhaps one or two sentences in those oh-so-informative interviews of politicians & hacks. Five seconds of a thirty second tv ad. I am sure professionals like you could find even more ways.

        • You’re right, it’s not rocket science; rocket science is a field governed by precisely known laws, whereas educating voters is hair-pullingly difficult – and even to the extent that voters are educated, they are not persuaded.
          Most people do not pay much attention to politics; those of us who do pay attention have to do a spit-take when we learn that outside of campaign season, half the electorate doesn’t even know whether the Republican Party is more liberal than the Democratic Party.  Voters, by and large, operate on simple signals because they’re too busy living their lives to have time to develop sophisticated political views, an activity that conveys very little personal benefit.  If they even take time to read as much as a paragraph on direct mail, it may remind them of your candidate’s name, efficiently signal that he’s on the voter’s side, or offer a quick rundown of which propositions Team Red is for and against, but it won’t make them “informed” and it won’t change minds.

  • I am against reform, I want the whole damn system to collapse.  Then we can get to reality. A painful reality, but one that is necessary.

  • “September’s Reason-Rupe poll (PDF) asked Americans if they’d support cuts to their own Medicare benefits “if you were guaranteed to receive benefits at least equal to the amount of money that you and your employer contribute into the system.”  It was a blowout: 68% yes, 25% no.  Three quarters of Tea Partiers said yes.”
     
    I read your link to the poll. I assume you are referring to question #19. If so, your statement is absolutely and obviously false.
     
    Upon further investigation, I found that you supplied the wrong link (correct link is; http://reason.com/assets/db/13481953038600.pdf, question #27). On the other hand, the differing  responses are interesting. Prhaps the different question language and format have something to do with it. To go from 48% agreement to 68% agreement in one year probably deserves a little caution. Particularly since the similar question on SS security benefits had a similar result.
     
    By the way, what is a ‘Derived’ response?