It's the system, man

I was reading Matt Zeitlin on Social Security, a post in which he says:


The real problem with her argument is that Obama’s rhetoric on Social Security buys into a particular frame — that social security reform is an urgent agenda item — that really serves two purposes: One, to find a large “crises” that the David Broders of the world can blame on both parties and two, to create an enviroment where conservative proposals to destroy Social Security will become acceptable (Garance collected some great quotes to this effect).

This echoes the accusation that I want to "Destroy the public school system". There's an implication that conservatives have no reasons for this--just a wanton desire to destroy anything good, especially if it goes against their weird, talismanic belief in the markets.

Forgive me if I suggest that this itself implies a weird, talismanic belief in the superiority of the status quo. A lot of the articles I read from the left simply assume that the school system, or the social security is worthy of defense.

But I come neither to praise public programs, nor to bury them. To me, the programs are a means to an end: educating all of America's children, keeping the old and weak from starving. The question is, do they do a good job at reaching these ends, and at what cost?

If I were designing a system to serve these ends from scratch, would they look anything like the current system? No, obviously, because I'm a libertarian; my solution would look a lot like a means-tested voucher. But even a liberal trying to put together a school system or a retirement program would be very unlikely to design anything even remotely like what we have today. So why are they so hysterical about "destroying the system"? I'm interested in the people it serves, not the bureaucracy and the buildings.

Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Business

Just In