The American Fox Hunt and Social Security

According to the 21st Century GOP, governing--passing and executing laws that contribute to the greater good of the country--is like the outlawed English Fox Hunt: a pursuit enjoyed by a powerful elite, marked by cruelty to the defenseless and a sneering attitude toward the ordinary folks who don't participate.

And because writing and passing a law is akin to sicking a pack of underfed hounds on one poor little fox, simply understanding the legislative process is considered dangerous knowledge. 

Interestingly, this prohibition on knowledge is waived when it comes to the writing and passage of the Social Security Act of 1935. Senators who can't guess the Federal Deficit to the NEAREST TRILLION DOLLARS nonetheless can give a detailed legislative history of the SSA, spelling out the original purpose in light of the median incomes and life expectancies of the 1930s. These details are then marshaled in today's arguments in favor of raising the retirement age and other benefit cuts.

The obvious question is: who cares what the purpose was in the 1930s? In the 1860s the Federal Government financed the construction of the railroads in order to more efficiently kill armed traitors in the South. Does that mean we should shut down the railroads now because instead of trying to kill these traitors we let them serve in Congress? 

This idea of a purpose that evolves over time is a necessary condition for human progress, but it is anathema to Tea Party Republicans. Calling themselves "constitutional conservatives," they mean to guide the country by the immutable principles of the Founders. The official conservative catechism is able to magically translate a pre-industrial worldview into our post-industrial society by including a detailed narrative history of The Great Depression.

This Depression Dogma reads like a thriller, as various heroes struggle in vain to prevent FDR from advancing misguided policy after misguided policy. After a decade of bad liberal ideas comes an exciting denouement: the final failure of Pearl Harbor leads to WWII and the vindication of our heroes as war, not Roosevelt, "ends the Great Depression." The story of Social Security is part of this history and therefore the original purpose of the Social Security Act of 1935 becomes part of the Founding Fathers' view of how America should operate.

That is why the notion that we might learn something about the value of spreading the risks of retirement and old age broadly across society is unimaginable to the GOP. "Huh?" the GOPer says, "What is lerrrr, lerrrning?" There is nothing to learn after lesson one: the Founders were always right, including their views on Social Security.

But those of us who do learn conclude that Social Security must be expanded. The 401k plan is an empirical failureMeanwhile, the Dutch program, following a different model, has been an empirical success. Hopefully, these empirical results are enough to convince liberals that Social Security benefits need to grow, not shrink. But we need to remember that, for the other side, no amount of empiricism will ever change Thomas Jefferson's position on Social Security.