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02/06/2005

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David

I think the posts by both Posner and Becker demonstrate that the real reason for Bush's social security proposal has nothing to do with the impending "collapse" of the system. That is not imminent, and even a collapse 50 years from now can be easily avoided by simple modifications. It is more about an ideological view that government should get out of the retirement business, and that it is preferable to create individual accountability. That, of course, promotes the libertarian ideals of personal responsibility and limited government.

I will not comment on the desirability of personal accounts in the abstract. I think there is some merit to the notion that we should view social security more like a welfare system for elderly in need than as a retirement system for everyone, including Bill Gates.

However, I would like to point out that Bush's proposal is not libertarian at all. It does not, contrary to popular opinion, create "private" accounts. It does create "personal" accounts, but they are still under government control and must be used to purchase government lifetime annuities. So it is still a state-run system. Absent evidence that it will cost less than the current system -- and even Bush supporters admit that this evidence is lacking -- I see absolutely no reason to adopt the proposal. Especially in light of the trillions of dollars of borrowing that it will require during the first 30 or 40 years. Government should think long term -- I agree -- but this is not a responsible proposal.

E.S.

Echoing David, I would like to see a comment on the specifics of the Bush policy set forth. It seems to me that such a proposal is flawed for two very real and non-theoretical reasons.

First, to allow millions of uninformed individuals to begin investing money in the market as a means to secure retirement funds seems destined to fail. It's unfeasible to believe that all of these people can invest and "beat" the market to a degree that would offer then decent retirement funds. Warren Buffett is obviously the exception rather than the rule. Additionally, a real-life market is full of variables that economic analysis doesn't fully incorporate, i.e., fraud ala Enron, Noise theory trading, irrational exuberance.

Second, assuming that these individuals, as a result of poor investing decisions, are now bereft of retirement funds, it is impossible to believe that the government would stand by and do nothing. If our government were so callous, we would never have had Social Security in the first place. Even just a few hundred thousand starving senior citizens would galvanize politicians to act.

Third, knowing that such bailout is likely waiting should they fail, young investors will naturally gravitate toward riskier investing decisions. There's no real drawback for them. If the investment pans out, then they've succeeded. If it doesn't, the government will bail them out anyway. So "sound" investment decisions are unnecessary, adding to the likelihood that the personal accounts will not be a reliable source for money come retirement.

So how, if at all, does the Bush plan address or consider this likely scenario? I agree compulsory saving plans are desirable, but I'd prefer to see an economic analysis of this real policy, since we're considering a change to a real, not imagined, Social Security.

Bill

I would like to comment on the obsvervation that Posner made concerning medicare for the wealthy elderly, or even not so wealthy elderly, whose children in effect receive additional inheritance because the government has picked up the tab for medical care.

I have a modest proposal.

Since death is highly correlated with increased medical expenditures of the elderly, a "pay as you go" system inheritance taxes could support part of the medicare costs. If a wealthy individual wished to opt of medicare (and hence the "medicare inheritance tax"), that individual could purchase a lifetime healthcare insurance policy. If the elderly individual paid for that policy, and could present evidence of having done so, then the individual's estate would escape the medicare inheritance tax--and the children would get the untaxed inheritance. But, what we have today is people getting far greater inheritances because some hamburger flipper is contributing to their parent's healthcare. It is often the poor who pay for the benefits of the rich--next time you have a stadium proposal that in effect reduces the box entertainment costs of a local business, the next time there is a subsidy for the local opera (whose tickets a poor person can't afford), etc., ask yourself who is really the recipient of wealth transfers. And if people are as libertarian as they profess, they should be the first ones to opt for the pay as you go inheritance tax and the inheritance tax option.

David

If I were inclined to be cynical, which I am not, I would say that the Bush social security plan is nothing more than a giveaway to Wall Street, which seems to be the only entity assured to benefit from it. Also, if I were cynical, I would say that the Bush Medicare prescription drug program was little more than a giveaway to drug companies. A cynical version of me might also say that the Iraq war was never about "weapons of mass destruction" and that the Bush tax cut was a giveaway to the rich, not an attempt to spur economic growth, as it was sold to the public.

But then again, I'm not cynical.

Jonathan

How much of the argument about the "capricious redistribution" would be weakened if other demographic groups voted in the same numbers as the elderly and would thus be presented with alternatives that also appealed with laser-like precision to their pocketbooks?

murky

Instead of a supplemental "welfare" program to cover the bottom savers while social insurance addresses the middle and the upper savers, it seems you could as well propose a standard scheme catering to the bottom and a supplemental "poorfare" scheme cycling back into the system returns that would otherwise go to Beckers and Posners who can get along nicely without it.

Mike

Th e thing I find distressing about these debates is the tendency of thos who oppose privatization to disparage the intelligence of the masses and to attack the motives of the president.

We let the uniformed do a lot of things like buy homes, select colleges, choose who to marry, or decide to see a doctor. The assumption that "those less intelligent than me" can't be trusted is frankly silly.

Second, the idea that the motivation is to enrich the administrations evil Wall Street friends also seems baseless. Maybe the current set-up is designed to provide jobs for unionized federal employees that tend to vote for democratic candidates.

This being said my speculation is that the motivation is based on politics and a genuine belief that the private accounts would be beneficial. My guess is the political calculations revolve around how voting behavior is likely to change based on increasing levels of personal wealth (as opposed to government benefits) and ownership of stock.

Jack Sprat

[[["The elderly have disproportionate voting power: a higher percentage of elderly than of other age groups vote, and they tend to focus laser-like on issues that affect their pocketbook."]]]

There is a difference between those who choose not to vote and those who cannot, just as there is a difference between a broken political system and a functional one. The young in this context are not comparable to blacks in the Jim Crow South or women prior to constitutional amendment, who could not vote if they wanted to. The elderly have disproportionate voting power in this context because young people as a collective do not exercise their right to vote. But they could, if they wanted to. They choose not to.

In other words, the system is not broken. I do not understand why government is justified in being paternalistic with regard to young people if they choose not to vote. The right to vote presumes capacity to reason and make one's own's choices: if young voters choose not to vote, why should the government step in to supplant their decision-making capacity by giving them something they didn't vote for? This kind of paternalism is social coercion that John Stuart Mill would not support unless some tangible public harm were to be avoided:

[[["The old selfthe self that will not emerge and take over the individual for many yearshas no control over the decisions of the young self. Compulsory retirement saving gives the old self a voice in the decisions of the young self."]]]

I would note that the harm to the old self does not yet exist when the younger person chooses not to vote. And it is uncertain that any harm will actually manifest, because "these improvident oldsters will in fact free ride on their children and grandchildren." What, then, justifies the paternalism? NOTHING cannot be a legitimate reason for government action.

Angel

"Some people cannot save enough to be able to retire on; the government should guarantee them a decent retirement income. Those are the only people whose retirement should be financed by other people, that is, by taxpayers. All others should be required to finance their own retirement."

Who decides if I qualify as someone who cannot save enough to be able to retire on? What if I decide that I like flipping burgers and am content living on minimum wage? Thus, didn't I just decide that my neighbors must pay for my retirement?

The problem with Judge Posner's suggestion that only certain people should receive Social Security is that the government would then be in the business of deciding who is "worthy" or, more accurately, "not worthy." It isn't as simple as imposing a cut-off at a certain income. There are choices behind the income level.

Corey

"But then again, I'm not cynical."

It is not cynical to be a realist about the motivations of people in power. I for one have great faith in people individually, here we are dealing with something else.

Bush's plan IS a corporate giveaway, the most massive one ever undertaken. It will redirect trillions into corporate stock, with the prime beneficiaries being significant holders of corporate stock, which 99% of Americans are not, nor will they be under this plan.

Not only is it corporate welfare, it is corporate welfare directed exclusively to established (read "large") listed companies. It is justified with garden variety supply side propaganda, but the money is going to the companies LEAST likely to provide technological innovation or new business growth. As I posted under Becker's comment, perhaps it will lead to lots of well-paying jobs cleaning the oil off of half-dead shorebirds for Halliburton.

I think this sort of thing should cause riots. The fact that it does not is a testimony to the "truimph of liberalism" mythology.

Leonard

Our government is always a work-in-progress, however all the laws must go back to the constitution and be consistent with it. The country during the Founding Fathers time was primarily non-urban, with little in way of the government programs. Police, sanitation and fire protection were rudimentary or even non-existant. The constitution did not promise a long life or happiness, just our right to pursue it.

The question of social security will never be answered with any finality, because the role of government in a citizen's life changes over time. The current proposal for the privitization of the governmental pension plan would lead to an excessive obsession with the role of business in our lives.

Whatever form the social security question takes shape, the basic principles of the constitution need to be adhered to. Whethter libertarian or socialist, the rules of law must apply fairly to all. If they aren't then will be generational fights and conflict within the union, as happened during the Civil War, when there was paradigm shift in the government's role.

Getting back to the fundamental question of what is the role of law in our life? Is it to make every person's lifestyle equal? From the beginning equality was never the goal of our government, but freedom from oppression was. The Revolution was about unshacking the chains of England and giving the individual back their inalienable rights.

Now Social Security debate could be framed whether these invidividual rights are extended to managing their own retirement funds. Should the government be in the insurance business? The constitution is specific that the government's role is to ensure a citizen's legal rights from oppression.

David

Corey:

"I come to bury Ceasar, not to praise him."

"But then again, I'm not cynical."

Follow? :)

fling93

A young person may dislike the idea of growing old and may be inclined therefore to refuse to make provision for his old self. The old self...has no control over the decisions of the young self. Compulsory retirement saving gives the old self a voice in the decisions of the young self.

Ugh. By that same argument, a young person may not make healthy choices, like eating junk food and not exercising. Compulsory exercise programs would give the old self a voice in these decisions.

I think what we're missing is a personal finances class in high school. Something that teaches you things like how to balance a checkbook, how to budget, about IRAs and 401(k)'s, the power of compounding, and other tips like automatically diverting a portion of your paycheck into savings. Nowadays, most people either learn this from their parents or try to figure it out themselves.

Joe Feldman

Judge Posner says: "The issue of compulsory pensions should be decoupled from that of welfare. Some people cannot save enough to be able to retire on; the government should guarantee them a decent retirement income." Is this not an argument for income redistribution in general, such as Moynihan proposed during the Nixon administration? After all, some people cannot save enough to pay for food; should the government guarantee them a decent food income? The answer is probably yes, because otherwise laws that (say) compel one to provide food for one's children would be unjust; it is a precondition, as the English discovered in the 19th century, for the imposition of such affirmative duties as feeding one's children that there be the Corn Laws or some other welfare system to make sure that every parent has sufficient income to fulfill these duties.

Brian Moore

As a young person "self", I am very happy that you are not the one making the laws about what I may do, for fear that my older "self" won't like it.

I submit that if all people acted only in the best interests of their older "selves," this world would be an extremely boring and miserable place.

TW

"As a young person "self", I am very happy that you are not the one making the laws about what I may do, for fear that my older "self" won't like it."

You have proven Posner's point here. As the younger self, you would of course act in the younger self's interest. Not sure how old the author of the above statement is, but if you are above a certain age, you must acknowledge that the person you were ten or fifteen or twenty years ago is an awful lot different from the person you are today. At least I hope that is the case for you, and you do not live in stasis.

Corey: You make convincing arguments, more often than not, but if you were to slow down a little before writing I am sure you would also be capable of irony. Outrage is appropriate these days, but you still have to convince people.

Byron

I generally agree with Judge Posner's post but I have a question about one of the claims.

"The shift is independently desirable. Having people pay through the tax system for other peoples retirement produces a capricious redistribution of income. The elderly have disproportionate voting power: a higher percentage of elderly than of other age groups vote, and they tend to focus laser-like on issues that affect their pocketbook."

Do the vote distributions of old people meaningfully differ from the voting distributions of the population as a whole? Probably not, as this doesn't seem to be a Democratic or Republican issue. It seems that it would be very difficult for old people to meaningfully vote for, or against, social security. It would essentially require them to vote the issue over all others. While the AARP might spread this fear through marketing, is there any evidence that old people would forego other important preferences to elect a single issue candidate? My guess would be that candidates for congress are different enough from one another that few voters would change parties over a single issue. To do so could require voting against preferred positions on choice, taxes, gay marriage, the war, affirmative action or any number of other issues that many people, including old people, care strongly about in both directions.

It seems uncommon for challengers to unseat incumbants from their own party (a situation where it would be more likely that a candidate could present similar choices to a previously-preferred candidate, but with an opposite position on social security).

If the effect only occurs at the margin, and given how gerrymandered many congressional districts are today, is a shift by older voters really something that congressmen should be concerned about?

TheWinfieldEffect

I find this subject a bit boring. But Posner has a really interesting article in the New York Times today on the legisation creating a National Intelligence Director. I urge everyone to read it.

Here is my summary of Richard Posner's view on the National Intelligence Director legislation:

Because the legislation presumes that a national intelligence director (NID) can have perfect information, it permits the NID to delay information that should reach the President more quickly. Worse, the demands of the NID's duties exceed the scope of his powers. All of his decisions can be revised by the Executive branch or Congress. The NID's staff of 500 could theoretically coordinate between the Executive and Congress, but this coordination would likely impede information flow by multiplying the quantity of strategic behavior. Because the NID is doomed to fail, he is probably little more than a scapegoat who is neither the President nor Congress. For these reasons, the position has been difficult to fill thus far.

Here is my commentary:

This is possible. There is no doubt that the game of telephone occurs in corporations or bureaucracies. Increase the number of communicators, and the transaction costs (including miscommunication) of communicating go up. But Will this necessarily, as Posner says, make us less safe? It will certainly cost more: the transaction costs go up. But maybe there are overlooked savings.

What overlooked savings? 1. Congress and the Executive do a lot and this reduces their workload. 2. Surely having someone who does nothing but scrutinize intelligence increases the quality of the scrutiny. I know that I can do differential equations much more easily if I am not feeding six wailing babies at the same time.

How does Posner know that the savings -- increased quality of scrutiny of the intelligence and the freeing up of the Executive and Congress to work on other projects, do not outweigh the increased transaction costs? The NID may not have perfect information, but he might produce better results than a hurried President or an election-term Congress might, and the delay in information reaching the President in the short term might be outweighed by the benefit of better decision-making by the President and Congress in the long-run. What's so wrong with delaying a bad decision from being made?

As John Kerry might say: "Certainly scrutinizing the information on aluminum tubes a bit more could have avoided a wholesale invasion of Iraq, and the financial cost of the war and its toll in American troops could have been avoided."

On the other hand, I suppose if the President has the right to cajole the Congress into war, and to generate his own neo-con intelligence to support his agenda (the false intel Douglas Feith, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld are accused of supplying), this legislation is obviously foolish. I wonder if Posner is merely pragmatically supporting the right of a President to engage in war politics. Perhaps the cost of a deceptive President is outweighed by the benefit of free Iraqi elections for millions. Is that justifiable?

(By the way, I supported the war, and still do. I think it is justifiable, but only because if Gore or Kerry had been President, either one would have made much worse decisions than Bush after 9/11, even if they would have been more honest.)

Corey

Byron, there is a lot of evidence that people are willing to vote an issue over other preferences they have. The book "What's the Matter with Kansas" exploes the topic. Or you can simply talk to someone who has extra strong beliefs on either side of the abortion issue.

Bush and the Republican party were losing a lot of votes among old people for planning to fiddle with social security, after he promised not to change anything for people over 55, some came back.

The old-self/young-self model is quite cynical in a way because it assumes that there is no set of values and preferences that is universally applicable even within one individual. This is taking situational ethics to the farthest extreme.

It is also a not very subtle endorsement of the elderly having disproportionate voting (or judging) power. After all, if old self has the wisdom of experience, then we should let old people speak as proxy for our as-yet-unknown old self and should ignore anything undemocratic about it.

There are personality types which would resist application to this model. (If you buy into Myers-Briggs, ENFP is one.) There are humans who do NOT substantially modify their closely held values as they age. Who still aspire to a sort of internal natural law.

This personality type operates not by changing core values to match situations, but by choosing an action in response to a situation based on their ability to rationalize it against core values. It is a subtle distinction, but it may explain why some people drift right as they age, and some clearly hold some youthful radicalism (Dworkin, Nader, Chomsky)

This person might say, I trust my own core values to survive into old age and reject your proxy wisdom categorically because you deny that temporally consistant core values exist. Then that person might go off to sleep.

David

Interesting comment about the national intelligence director. I just glanced at the NYT article. Just a quick reaction. First, I question why Judge Posner thinks he understands this issue better than the 9/11 commission. The 9/11 commission was a blue ribbon panel that explored the issue in depth and, in general, gave a refreshingly honest and non-partisan assessment of the challenges we face. I would take the commission's recommendation over that of someone -- even someone as obviously bright as Judge Posner -- who has written about the issue for no particular reason other than perhaps a personal interest.

I also have another explanation for why the post has not been filled. First, I wonder whether Bush really wants to fill it. The Bush administration did everything it could to stonewall the commission but failed. It tried to stonewall the legislation establishing the NID but failed also. Now it is stonewalling the appointment. I sense a pattern.

Second, it is unclear whether any sane person would want the NID job in this political climate. It is clear that Bush has politicized the intelligence business and wants his underlings to arrive at pre-appointed conclusions. No self-respecting intelligence professional would agree to be Bush's political whore, especially after the WMD debacle in Iraq. And, as noted by others, the NID will be the scapegoat when (not if) things go wrong. So if Bush wants a high-profile appointee, which seems to be the case, he will have trouble finding one. He will have to show some respect to the intelligence community before they return the favor.

TW

Corey,

I don't think that the "old self/young self" model requires one to adopt the situationalist ethics that you describe. Although as you say, it could be adopted along with a cynical attitude about morals, or "core values," I don't think it requires that outlook.

It has something more to do with what "self" really is. It could be that both the young self and old self have core moral values, that these values don't just represent an adaption to self interest, but that they changed with age and experience. Maybe some changed and some didn't.

The people you describe, Nader and Chomsky, might very well have kept their political beliefs, but nevertheless changed in other ways such that they are currently different people than they were in youth. I sense that you and I, Corey, share some core political beliefs; nevertheless we are two different people. The same could be said for young-Chomskey and old-Chomskey.

I don't know Dworkin, Nader, or Chomskey well enough to say whether they are or are not different selves than they were in youth; the fact that they remain liberals does not prove otherwise. My intuition is that they are very different people for the fact that all three have lived varied, interesting lives.

Also, I'd like to point out that the fact that old and young selves are autonomous does not mean that one is better in any way than the other. It doesn't mean we should count old people's votes more than young people's. It just means that where, as with retirement savings, the actions of a young person could cause, say, starvation later on in life, we might say that the old person should not have to starve. The fact that the young self can deprive goods from the old self might justify forcing the young person to save through a social security account. Or put another way, the old self might not ought to be "punished" for lack of retirement saving in youth, at least not to the point of being left destitute. He is a different person. I would think that you agree with the above, more or less, though perhaps not on the justification.

Wilson

Since I agree with everything up to where Posner claims that we need mandatory saving, the most intriguing part of Posner's post to me is his model of human life as the 'old self' 'young self' model.

The problem with this model is that I do not believe it holds up under economic scrutiny. The typical economic model which describes the saving decision, which Posner derides offhandedly, claims that individuals are simply working on a budget constraint upon which they divide their income between future consumption and present consumption. This is basically the same way economists model every consumption decision. People who choose to save a great deal are said to have a high value of future consumption relative to present consumption. Those who save less are said to value present consumption over future consumption. Since in the real world there reall are people who save a lot and people who save a little, this model seems to have explanatory power.

Clearly under this model, forced retirement saving is bad. Those who would choose to save little because they value present consumption are made worse off. It is the same as if the government mandated a set amount to spend on automobiles. Those people who would normally not buy automobiles are made worse off by such legislation because you are forcing them to take money they would rather spend on something else and making them spend it on automobiles. Surely no one would propose this legislation. In the case of forced savings, you are forcing people to redistribute income from the present to the future--which will lower their utility.

Posner's model is that you are actually two people, old you and young you. The easy case for this model to explain is the one Posner describes in 'young you' will not save because you do not value the utility of 'old you'. What this theory does not cover very well is those people who actually do save. the 'young selves' of those who do save must be cooperative types--they value the utility of the 'old self' to some degree that causes them to save at the cost of their own consumption. The point is that this 'different' model actually says the exact same thing as the previous model, it's just phrased differently. Some people value their consumption when they get older, some do not.

Actually, most people value consumption when they get old, since most people save. It's a myth to believe that without forced saving or social security, old people would be starving left and right. clearly that's untrue--in fact, when people know that the government will support them in their old age they are probably less likely to save. We would expect savings rates to rise if social security and other welfare programs for the elderly go away.

If Posner is prepared to claim that some young people, but not all since some save, see their old selves as different people and thus are not concerned with their welfare--and therefore, we should intervene on behalf of someone WHO DOES NOT EXIST AS OF YET, and who we do not know to even be real, then I think he's being really inconsistent. The typical economic model accounts really well for people who don't save and people who do, just as well as it accounts for people who spend a great deal on automobiles. I seriously doubt that there is an information failure here either, as people can look around and see old people everywhere.

TheWinfieldEffect

I agree with you, Wilson, but just to play Devil's Advocate, what if Posner's theory of old self/young self has currency in the philosophy of mind (and neuroscience) and paternalism in cases of mental illness?

Example:

Time 1:
At age 30, I sign a living will that protects my dignity. In the event of significant brain injury, it compels my caretaker to wash me twice a day, empty my bedpan regularly, and change my bedsheets daily. At that time, I have 100% brain function.

Time 2:
I begin to suffer from Alzheimer's. My brain function drops to a level low enough for me to have a caretaker, but not so low that I cannot exercise personal autonomy in advance of my own interests. Let's say 60%. Because loss of 40% of brain function is "significant," my caretaker begins my dignity regimen: washing, changing of bedpans, changing of sheets. I find this quite intrusive and undignified and it bewilders me.

Time 3:
My Alzheimer's worsens. Brain fucntion drops below 50%. The dignity regimen does not bewilder me anymore, because I cannot muster the brainpower to form a coherent self who would find offensive the paternalism of my caretaker.

Plausibly, one could say it is unfair to bind me at Time 2 to something I decided at Time 1. I am of enough mind to have interests and to make decisions to advance them at Time 1 and Time 2, but the conditions I speculated about at Time 1 are perhaps different than how I now experience them at Time 2. Why should the decision made by the less informed self govern if it causes me the precise harm sought to be avoided (i.e., indignity)?

Obviously, in my example, one could simply interpret the word "significant" to apply to changes from Time 1 to Time 3. But if that is done, a problem arises when I at Time 2 refuse to treat myself with dignity (e.g., due to depression) and develop bed sores, ingrown toe-nails, infections, gangrene, etc. What is my caretaker supposed to do? Force me into the shower? Trick me into the shower? Let me sleep on dirty sheets in my own feces?

I think the problem that Posner runs into is that mental illness (e.g., Alzheimer's) is distinguishable from old age in general. Not everyone who grows older changes their mind about fundamental matters. People who are messy in youth are often still messy in old age. People who are organized in youth are often still organized at age 65. Gossipers still gossip, and drinkers often still drink. Saving money is a similar habit. It might be the case that drastic change like losing brain function from Time 1 to Time 3, or even Time 1 to Time 2, does not happen with most people. I am in line with what Wilson and Jack Sprat have said earlier on this thread: there is NO REASON for the government to be paternalistic with regard to younger individuals when the harm to their older selves may never come to exist and the political system is already functioning without government intervention.

I am not sure why Posner is anti-free markets on this one. Perhaps there is a moral principle: the old shouldn't rob from the young. But then again, since everyone becomes old, and everyone is once young, what is so unfair about a political system where $5 is taken from everyone at Time X (unless they vote against it) and that $5 is given back to them with interest at Time X+10 (unless it is voted down)? I can see one problem, and let's call it the Boomer Problem:

1. Generation A has its $5 taken from it.
2. Generation A begets Generation B; B begets C.
3. Generation A gets old.
4. Time comes for Generation C's $5 to be taken from it to repay Generation A. But Generation C votes against the proposal. Generation C keeps its $5. Generation A is screwed.

Why should Generation C vote against its interests and protect Generation A? Why should Generation C pay for Generation A's stupidity? Do younger generations have a moral obligation to finance the bad decision-making of prior generations? I would say no.

But maybe Posner's point is that Social Security presumes that very moral principle: the young have a moral obligation to take care of their grandparents. But that makes sense only if grandparents are writing the laws!

In other words, Social Security is a way for the old to fleece the young. That is political dysfunction. Young people are being singled out for income redistribution, precisely because they don't participate in politics. We should protect the young, not from themselves, but from THEIR GREEDY GRANDPARENTS.

So it's actually anti-paternalism.

Walker

TheWinfieldEffect:

I think you are missing something with Posner's explanation of the young/old self. The reason for protecting the old self against the young self is not that they will be incapacitated, but rather that they have different interests than the young self.

Consider for example going on a long trip and bringing a box of cookies with you as a snack. If you could be the self at the start of the trip, the self at the middle of the trip and the self at the end of the trip all at the same time, you may decided that you should ration the cookies, spreading your enjoyment of those cookies out across the length of the trip.

Instead, at the beginning of the trip you are only the self from the beginning of the trip and may decide to over indulge in the cookies. After all, while the beginning of the trip self may have some interest in end of the trip self, it is primarily interest in itself.

By the time you get to the end of the trip self though, the previous selves will have already eaten all the cookies and nothing will be left for the end of the trip self.

If you don't believe this example, try testing it out. I would almost guarantee that everyone will eat the cookies quickly and then wish they hadn't.

Posner's social security (which could take the form of the current system or forced savings) would basically prevent the earlier selves from eating all of the cookies at the beginning of the trip.

Keep in mind, that this does not mean that there has been any great change in the person during the car ride. The person likes cookies just as much when he starts out as when he gets there. It just means that that their interests at the beginning of the trip (eating the cookies at the beginning of the trip) conflict with the interests at the end of the trip (eating the cookies at the end of the trip).

Anonymous

social security, take care

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