I took a moment tonight to read former Bush economic advisor Gregory Mankiw's brief for Social Security privatization in this week's New Republic. It's a companion piece to Jon Chait's article making a principled case for Democratic obstruction. The title of Mankiw's piece, or the subtitle, is 'Why Democrats Oppose Bush.'
I planned to write about it. And then I didn't know quite where to start. Given Mankiw's background he's obviously an intelligent and sophisticated man. And yet the arguments he adduces are gimmicky and puerile and laced with minor dishonesties all the way through. Two thirds of opposition to the president's plan, he reasons, is due to Bush hatred and Democrats' latent marxism. The remaining third is the result of paternalism. And he deals with that by noting that the Harvard faculty (of which he is a member) has a 401k-style defined-contribution pension plan. And they seem to like it. So why do Democrats (and the idea is that the Harvard faculty is roughly synonomous with Democrats) want to prevent people from having their Social Security replaced by a 401k-style private accounts system?
If it's good enough for the Harvard folks, why isn't it good enough for everyone else.
At this late stage of the game, there's probably little point in again noting that the Harvard faculty and everyone who has a 401k also has Social Security. And there are a slew of other rather elementary arguments why this is a silly comparison. But, again, you've heard those arguments already by now. And you can agree with them or decide that Mankiw's reasoning is more sound.
After sitting for a while with Mankiw's critique, though, a more salient point came to me. Conservatives have any number of explanations why Democrats don't like the president's plan: latent Marxism, political opportunism, contempt for the common man, and on and on. Believe those arguments or don't.
But liberals make up less than a quarter of the population. Democrats, defined by party ID, perhaps a bit more than a third. Yet every poll that comes out shows that clear and, by some measures, decisive majorities don't like the president's plan.
What's their beef?
I can understand why Mankiw wants to pick on Democrats. Because that other question is far more troublesome and difficult to answer.