Civil War Watch: Sentences to Ponder
By Arnold Kling
some people get so angry when you challenge their beliefs. You are literally taking away the source of their good feeling, like drugs from a junkie or a boyfriend from a teenage girl.
Keep that in mind as you watch the political process unfold over the next several months. In fact, I believe that the result in experimental psychology is that people get “high” from rejecting beliefs that they do not like. As opposed to getting high from, say, weighing alternatives and looking at things from a new perspective.
James Hamilton proposes that Mitt Romney back away from strong partisanship, with President Obama to follow. Hamilton describes this as a “suggestion for both presidential candidates– or call it a dream.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports,
Fourteen years ago, The Post, along with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University, asked people to assess the strength of their allegiance to the parties. At that time, 41 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats said they considered themselves “strong” partisans. In the new Post-Kaiser survey, those numbers have shot up to 65 and 62 percent, respectively.
So the trend seems to be for the two parties to attract fewer supporters, but for those supporters to be more partisan. In my view, this creates among party leaders a sense of entitlement to engage in demagoguery, regardless of long-term consequences. As Tyler Cowen puts it, Solve for the equilibrium.
I wish I could believe this: [Vice President Biden’s promise that there will be no changes to Social Security]…But the first time Republicans offer a trade (“tell you what, if you cut Social Security, we’ll stop cutting taxes”), will the administration take it? I’m afraid they will.
So, raising the age of eligibility to take account of greater longevity should be off the table. Means testing Social Security to make it more progressive should be off the table.
I could note that at this point in history Social Security is a regressive income transfer. I don’t have figures, but my bet is that if you measure affluence by the annual consumption that one’s resources can support, then the median person paying into the system is worse off than the median person getting money out of it. Note that there are one or two other things on which people think that government should be spending more money. Note that if the government runs out of willing creditors, the consequences for Social Security and a lot of other things that government does could be dire.
Above all, I could note that in the past these considerations have mattered to people on the left. The difference is that today any reform of Social Security that is designed to shore up its finances is treated by the left as a threat to their self-esteem, or to their “source of good feeling,” in Mauldin’s terms.
Solve for the equilibrium.