Monday, December 13, 2004

In re: twit-in-chief

Here's my polite academic letter to the editor of the NYT, who can't very well apologize for the ignorance and mendacity of David Brooks. Following the polite letter is my longer meditation on the privatization issue, which gets more scatological and perhaps less sexual than my introduction to Bill Burr's post. The Cliff Notes version, for those of you who read USA Today, is, Brooks is full of shit and should be ashamed of himself. Cautionary note for self-proclaimed conservatives who believe in "free markets": there's no such thing in the good old USA, not since 1898, and it's a good thing, too. Free markets would leave you at the mercy of morons like Donald Trump, Dick Armey, and Phil Gramm. You would, I think, be better off with the majority of the Republican Senate of New York State, which last week overrode George Pataki's veto and raised the minimum wage to $7.15 (over two years).

To the editors:

Toward the end of his 12/11/04 column on reforming Social Security, David Brooks admits that he “may be a complete idiot.” Let me explore this possibility by noting three astonishing idiocies.
First, he reduces skepticism about the market to worries about the conspiracies that produced crony capitalism in the US. To be wary of privatization, however, you don’t have to believe that the “fat cats” are the real beneficiaries—you just need to know that Social Security addressed a crisis created by market forces, and that no one in his or her right mind, not even private-sector business executives, trusts market forces that are not modulated by public policy, social goals, and regulatory agencies.
Second, he invokes Theodore Roosevelt as a “champion of market forces.” TR was many things, but any biography of the man will tell you that he wanted an activist state to contain the market powers of the new industrial corporations.
Third, he uses ridiculous arithmetic. The productivity of American workers has grown exponentially since the 1930s. The ratio between employees and retirees has changed accordingly. Stating that there will be “only” two workers for every retiree in 2030 should bother us about as much as stating that there are “only” two farmers for every one hundred consumers in 2004.
The way to solve the so-called crisis of Social Security is not to unleash “the power of the market,” as Brooks proposes, but to limit benefits on the upper end of the income scale.

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