Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Framing the Social Security Debate;
White House Strategy

Although the debate about reformation of social security is a matter of moderate interest for me, being at the tail end of the baby boom generation, so far I have not commented on the matter here.  The reason: debates should begin with observations, or at least with information of some sort.  Until there are facts to talk about, there is no point in having a debate.

When Bush is asked about the details of his plan, he always says that it is too early to talk about the details. 

OK, fine.  Then shut up.  If you are not ready to talk about facts, then we have nothing to talk about.

The peculiar thing about this is that the Bush Administration does have facts to discuss.  They have been working on social security privatization since 2001.  The Administration has worked up at least three proposals, and has prepared financial analyses of the proposals.  Yet for some reason, the White House has not been trotting these out for the press. 

Perhaps the reason for the reticence is that their own data do not show any benefit for their proposals.  The illustration above is from the Economic Policy Institute.  It is an analysis of one of the proposals that the Administration came up with in 2001.  That was before we got sidetracked by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

For those who are really interested in old data, Paul Suskind has put up scans of some early Administration documents pertaining to their plans for Social Security. 

Of course, I have no way of knowing what their current plan is.  Perhaps it is better than the ones they had in 2001.  Brad DeLong, Josh Marshall, and other well-informed professionals  in the Blogosphere have been tracking the issue closely, and they appear to have not learned any specifics.

Mr. DeLong, in particular, has done a nice job of dissecting what little is known so far.  But is doing so, he reveals to the Administration the kinds of arguments that they will have to address, once they finally get around to unveiling the details of their plan. 

Despite the lack of hard data, there is plenty of debate going on: a Blogpulse search shows 38,625 hits for the search string, Social Security.  It has been a topic in numerous newspaper editorials, such as this one, by Paul Krugman. 

So what are people debating about? Vague ideas, catchy slogans, and cherished ideals, that's what. 

Why would the Administration proceed in this manner?  Because that is how they are most likely to succeed.  They won the election based, not upon facts, but catchy slogans, etc.  The strategy worked before; they are hopeful that it might work again. 

By conducting the debate in this manner, they are basically "preparing the battlefield."  Get people to agree with certain basic ideas, then cast the specifics in terms of the vague ideas that people have come to accept.  Once people have already thought about, and accepted, the vague ideas, they do not pay any attention to the details when they come out.

Clever.  Except if people realize that their minds are being played with, they might get upset. 

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