Sabine Sighting

I'm sitting about 30 feet away from Sabine Herold, who is meeting with a bunch of Cato higher-ups and other policy wonkish types. Us lowly interns will not get a chance to meet her, but I was able to glance in on the meeting through the window on my way into the building. Perhaps some of the Cato bloggers will fill us in on what she talked about.

For past Catallarchy Sabine coverage, clickity click.

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I’m doing no such thing.

I’m doing no such thing. Read my original argument above. My point was that there is no one left to convince; the only people who support subsidies are the special interest groups and politicians who clearly benefit from them. There is nothing a think tank can do to change that fact. It’s an inherent problem with any state system.

This is my point about what's "politically impossible." I doubt very seriously that there's "no one left to convince", but even so it's demonstrative of my larger point.

How is it made more fair by making it regressive, more expensive, larger, and harder to administer?
this begs the question (probably on purpose.)

I think people might claim

I think people might claim that environmental concerns can’t be solved by a free market and they prefer socialism as a result.

True, that could be the case, though I don't think as many people would be so passionate about environmental concerns if they didn't get the added benefit of supporting their preferred policy conclusions.

Don’t ket the perfect be the enemy of the good here- it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t cut them down, just because states always distort markets.

I'm doing no such thing. Read my original argument above. My point was that there is no one left to convince; the only people who support subsidies are the special interest groups and politicians who clearly benefit from them. There is nothing a think tank can do to change that fact. It's an inherent problem with any state system.

SS is made more fair by the fact that people get paid regardless of their income, though I wouldn’t be opposed to making it more progressive as you say by increasing the poor’s share of benefits.

How is it made more fair by making it regressive, more expensive, larger, and harder to administer?

And you didn’t address my

And you didn’t address my point about subsidies; there is nothing any public policy organization can do about them, because the war of ideas has already been won. Subsidies are an inherent part of any statist political system, and the only viable solution is to get rid of the government entirely.

Don't ket the perfect be the enemy of the good here- it certainly doesn't mean you can't cut them down, just because states always distort markets. I think this sort of argument is precisely the rationalization that allows organizations like CATO to function... It's more or less like saying that you're not going to argue about subsidies because it's politically impossible to change anything... Well what does that mean, you might ask yourself? It means that eliminating them is opposed by powerful interests. The "politically possible" things are of course the opposite. CATO is nothing if not a group of intelligent people so it's not surprising to find an ideology that covers for the very weighing of priorities I was accusing them of.

SS is made more fair by the fact that people get paid regardless of their income, though I wouldn't be opposed to making it more progressive as you say by increasing the poor's share of benefits.

They were supporting Social Security privatization decades ago, long before anyone else supported or even cared about the idea

some people would have loved to eradicate social security. Many business' were staunchly opposed to such a system in the first place. It was long considered "the third rail" of american politics though, because it was thought of as politically impossible (in much the same sense as you write about subsidies above) to mess with. CATO had the good sense to recognize the fact that things which are politically impossible because actual voters want them (like social security) can be changed as you scare people into believing things (like the idea that there's some irreperable crisis coming.) Things that are "politically impossible" because business interests oppose them can't be changed as readily.

that many left-wing

that many left-wing anti-market types use environmentalism as a cover or justification for socialism
what I'm disputing is the use of "as a cover"- I think people might claim that environmental concerns can't be solved by a free market and they prefer socialism as a result. Regardless of what you think about this argument, environmentalism isn't functioning as a "cover"- it may well be the very reason they prefer socialism. That is to say, socialism would be more of a cover for environmentalism, at least in the sense that the primary concern is with the environment (and not the proletariat losing their chains.)

The idea that this is a "platform to argue against free markets" seems to me a touch on the paranoid side (something I don't think you're often guilty of.)

-Matt

I’m sorry? Explain what

I’m sorry? Explain what you mean here. You’re saying that because some “leftist supporters of status quo” are opposed to this idea that’s evidence that Social Security isn’t about ensuring that people don’t starve to death when they get old?

I'm saying that if the program were about ensuring that old people don't starve to death, people above the poverty line wouldn't be eligble for benefits. And yet that is not the case. In fact, we wouldn't need a separate program at all if that were the goal; welfare and food stamps would already cover the indigent elderly.

I’m just saying that they emphasize the points that happen to be powerfully supported (Social Security privatization) and clear their throat with “and of course other subsidies should go as well.”

Again, not true. They were supporting Social Security privatization decades ago, long before anyone else supported or even cared about the idea. It is because of Cato that the idea is now on the table being talked about. You can't blame them for being successful and now attracting lots of support; they were there first.

And you didn't address my point about subsidies; there is nothing any public policy organization can do about them, because the war of ideas has already been won. Subsidies are an inherent part of any statist political system, and the only viable solution is to get rid of the government entirely.

Wasn’t she the genius that

Wasn’t she the genius that argued about how environmentalism conceals a secret desire for the revolution of the proletariat and a fondness for Stalin?

Indeed she was, and I defended her on it here. And this shouldn't be a big surprise to anyone either: go to any hard left rally, and among the A.N.S.W.E.R. types decrying the imperialism, racism, classism, and sexism inherent in capitalism, you will also find hard core environmentalists who believe that a Marxist revolution is the only way to protect Mother Earth (cause we saw how well that worked out for them in the past).

Just wondering: what do you think would happen if CATO stopped focusing on “Social Security Choice” and started focusing on the massive market distortions produced by gov’t subsidies (both direct and indirect.) I realize that they do write about it somewhat (and certainly not favorably), but I just bet that if they made it their major issue (which they probably should if they’re serious about free markets) they wouldn’t be CATO anymore.

There is not much CATO can do about government subsidies other than what they are currently doing. All economists agree that subsidies are a bad idea, and every interest group opposes them, except, of course, the interest groups that directly benefit from them. The war of ideas on that issue has been won, and there is not much anyone can do to solve the public choice problem of concentrated benefits coupled with dispersed costs other than not playing the game in the first place. Social Security, on the other hand, is still contestable territory, and it is a tribute to Cato's successful work over the last few decades that the issue has gained so much traction. Further, Social Security makes up a much larger portion of the budget than subsidies, so I don't buy your argument that they need to make it their major issue at the expense of privatizing Social Security.

Incidentally, I've been reading a paper about the dishonesty of the Social Security program that my boss has been working on; his conclusion is that you cannot be a Rawlsian liberal who believes in transparent, honest deliberative democracy and at the same time support an inherently dishonest program like SS. Here's a taste of the argument.

Wasn't she the genius that

Wasn't she the genius that argued about how environmentalism conceals a secret desire for the revolution of the proletariat and a fondness for Stalin?

It's pretty cool that you're at CATO now though. Just wondering: what do you think would happen if CATO stopped focusing on "Social Security Choice" and started focusing on the massive market distortions produced by gov't subsidies (both direct and indirect.) I realize that they do write about it somewhat (and certainly not favorably), but I just bet that if they made it their major issue (which they probably should if they're serious about free markets) they wouldn't be CATO anymore.

I think CATO’s a shining

I think CATO’s a shining example of how groups can selectively emphasize aspects of a larger ideology when the certain aspects happen to line-up with powerful interests.

Cato has been pushing the same line for the past few decades, long before privatization was even a blip on the political radar. Social Security reform has always been one of, if not their largest issue focus, so its just dishonest or ignorant to claim that they are doing this for nefarious reasons.

The advantage to SS is that it’s rooted in the idea that people have a right not to starve to death when they get older.

Wrong, wrong, 1000 times wrong. If that were truly the case, leftist supporters of the status quo wouldn't be so opposed to means testing benefits. And the sort of reforms that Cato supports would in no way change the safety net features of the present system.

"leftist supporters of the

"leftist supporters of the status quo wouldn’t be so opposed to means testing benefits"

I'm sorry? Explain what you mean here. You're saying that because some "leftist supporters of status quo" are opposed to this idea that's evidence that Social Security isn't about ensuring that people don't starve to death when they get old?

"Cato has been pushing the same line for the past few decades, long before privatization was even a blip on the political radar. Social Security reform has always been one of, if not their largest issue focus, so its just dishonest or ignorant to claim that they are doing this for nefarious reasons."
privatization has been a "blip on the radar" for a long time indeed- radio was privatized over 50 years ago for instance. Who said they were doing anything for nefarious reasons? I'm just saying that they emphasize the points that happen to be powerfully supported (Social Security privatization) and clear their throat with "and of course other subsidies should go as well."

-Matt

The fact that there’re

The fact that there’re leftists who are both marxists and environmentalists is unrelated to the “watermelon” smear tactics promoted by sabine. The claim is not “occasionally the two things are correlated” (and of course, I’ve never known you to rely on such anecdotal arguments as “go to any rally and you’ll see” unless your case was really weak) the claim is that environmentalism conceals a secret love for marxism, that it’s usually/always a cover for a person’s secret love for Pol Pot.

I certainly don't claim that all environmentalists are Marxists; after all, the mere existence of free-market environmentalists disproves that claim. I do, however, recognize - and you'd have to be an idiot not to recognize - that many left-wing anti-market types use environmentalism as a cover or justification for socialism.

Heck, while I've been sparring with you, I was in the middle of reading some commie nonsense over at TomPaine.com

Rising to this occasion requires, first of all, some hard rethinking about friends and enemies. More than Greenpeace and the anti-globalization activists, business should worry about two true impediments. One is what I would call, not originally, market fundamentalism. As political analyst Benjamin Barber has noted, this strange religion, which worships the unfettered market and seeks to "starve the beast" of government, in the end "robs us of the civic freedom by which we control the social consequences of our private choices." It leaves business ensnared in the clutches of the old imperatives, with no possibility of transcending them to reach a higher level of corporate citizenship, which can only be achieved in partnership with government and civil society.

The other impediment facing business is more subtle but more prevalent in enlightened corporate circles. Progressive corporate leaders often say they do not want government actions "at this time" because they want their companies to be first to stake out a claim on the future—to get there first and thus establish competitive advantage in the world that is coming. Such thinking would not be dangerous if we still had the luxury of time, but we do not. There is only so far companies can go on their own, and it is not far enough.

Now, can you keep a straight face and tell me that environmentalists like this author aren't using it as a platform to argue against free markets?

It might be worthy of note

It might be worthy of note that I (and several other interns, who I'm sure can back me up on this point) caught Micha not more than three feet away from Cato Senior Fellow »

Well- the Social Security

Well- the Social Security "case" just happens to align itself with powerful domestic interestes in America who'd like to see it gone. I think CATO's a shining example of how groups can selectively emphasize aspects of a larger ideology when the certain aspects happen to line-up with powerful interests. This ensures that they also will tend to succeed in the marketplace of ideas, because their ideas now have better backing.

The fact that there're leftists who are both marxists and environmentalists is unrelated to the "watermelon" smear tactics promoted by sabine. The claim is not "occasionally the two things are correlated" (and of course, I've never known you to rely on such anecdotal arguments as "go to any rally and you'll see" unless your case was really weak) the claim is that environmentalism conceals a secret love for marxism, that it's usually/always a cover for a person's secret love for Pol Pot.

The "argument" seems much more like a rant. The advantage to SS is that it's rooted in the idea that people have a right not to starve to death when they get older. Regardless of how poorly that person invested their money when they were younger, they don't lose that right. That seems simple and axiomatic to me. The disability insurance argument isn't that bad, it's just that the claim rate of SS is so high that premiums would be through the roof. Additionally, handing stuff like this over to private companies is retarded because they have strong incentives not to cover you, which is exactly what you don't want from such a program. We see the same thing with Health Care, and that's why our system is beaurocratic and laden with administrative costs (40% more than Canada's "socialized" system)- the companies spend alot of our money trying not to cover us. The administrative costs for SS are insanely low- it's remarkably more efficient than most privatized industries, but it has to go because it's "gov't."

-Matt

I think you'd understand my

I think you'd understand my point more by thinking about a similar idea you've had. You and the rest of this blog participated in the "may day" rememberance which is designed to bring to crimes and atrocities of communism and socialism to the forefront of the discussion. I imagine that you think it's important for reasonable movement of socialism to clearly and explicitely denounce Stalin and the like in order to be viable. Does nearly every leftist admit that Stalin was an asshole? Sure, but I think your point is well taken that if you don't make it vocal and clear that you're allowing the left to (at best) implicitely condone these things and/or (at worst) act as the unwitting conspritor to such sympathies.

Clearly if changing or curbing subsidies is impossible (which it's obviously not anyway- they can be changed) then certainly you'd admit that buiding a time machine and changing the past crimes of what's called "communism" is impossible, so the analogy works.

What's the result you ask? Look at a guy like NYUguy (whom I'm sure you remember) who's basically a Neocon who borrows libertarian arguments. If you pressed him far enough (as I did on a few occassions) he'd defend all manner of subsidies and gov't support as "something we have to do so our farmers can compete with the EU" while dismissing welfare as something that makes people lazy and shiftless. I'd bet $100 that NYUguy likes CATO very much, and CATO probably doesn't offend him much by quickly blurting "subsidies are bad" but then focusing on the elements of their position which align with the neoconservative agenda. It's result of a such a focus that guys like NYU (who if I remember correctly is going into politics) are able to adopt libertarian arguments to argue against welfare while ignoring the harder realities of the ideology.

-Matt

This is my point about

This is my point about what’s “politically impossible.” I doubt very seriously that there’s “no one left to convince", but even so it’s demonstrative of my larger point.

I don't understand your point and you don't seem to understand mine. This has little to do with what is politically possible; rather, it's a question of what sorts of goals think tanks can and should try to accomplish. Think tanks can spread ideas and influence people's opinions. Given that no economists, public policy organizations, or political organizations support corporate subsidies in general, who is there to convince? The only people who do support subsidies are the politicians and special interest groups who directly benefit from them, and there is no argument we can give to convince them to act against their own interests.

Still, as you've admitted, Cato does do work in this area, but its no mark against them that they do not devote their major focus to an issue that is outside the scope of possibility.

How is it made more fair by making it regressive, more expensive, larger, and harder to administer?
this begs the question (probably on purpose.)

How does it beg the question? You already agreed that means testing would make the program more progressive, smaller, cheaper, and easier to administer. What is your disagreement?