And Men Plunder

Plunder and Deceit: Big Government’s Exploitation of Young People and the Future
Mark R. Levin

plunderEver since I was a kid I’ve enjoyed getting a package in the mail. Paradoxically, the mystery contained in the big envelope or box remains even when I’ve place the order myself.

So when I found a Jiffy bag on my doorstep one day last fall I was intrigued. I hadn’t ordered anything. What could it be? Who could have sent it?

The it was easy: a book. In fact, the present book. The who was a friend to whom I will ascribe the best of intentions. Yet I fear, should he read this, that I will offend. Here’s why:

This is a bad book.

What it is, though, is an excellent example of form that predates the Republic itself: the political tract. In the peculiar fashion of that form it attempts, by verbal sleight of hand, to turn lawyering into well-founded public policy.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) The face of a real revolutionary: poor, principled and at the end, essentially friendless. By Auguste Millière -Original hang sin the National Portrait Gallery London

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
The face of a real revolutionary: poor, principled and at the end, friendless.
By Auguste Millière -Original hangs in the National Portrait Gallery London

Pshaw. Paine was trying to ignite a revolution; Levin is, too.

For those not in the know, and until I cracked the spine of this book that includes me, Mark R. Levin is a talk radio  personality. Like other products of the mediasphere–left and right, political and apolitical–his is an omnichannel presence. He talks. He writes. He runs a foundation. A veritable polymath of punditry. Politically, he is a product of the Reagan administration.

In the current parlous state of the American polity Ronald Reagan is starting to look more and more like FDR. And there’s nothing more head-scratching to me than an self-described Reagan Republican rewriting history. To hear Levin and others tell it, entitlements in general and Social Security in particular are, well, let’s let Levin speak for himself: ” …perhaps the greatest and most financially devastating burden imposed on younger people and future generations is the Social Security program.” (p. 37)

Some of us are old enough to remember the Reagan era and a few may remember the scene pictured nearby. In 1983 Ronald Reagan signed a major Social Security reform act that was enacted to shore up the system’s finances.

Ronald Reagan (R) and Tip O'Neill (D) at the signing of the 1982 SS Reform Act. At the left can be seen the plan's architect, Alan Greenspan.

Ronald Reagan (R) and Tip O’Neill (D) at the signing of the 1982 SS Reform Act. At the left can be seen the plan’s architect, Alan Greenspan.

The head of the Commission that laid out the framework was Alan Greenspan. Then Speaker of the House  Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill shepherded it through Congress. No one was dismantling anything, the public supported it (despite essentially doubling FICA withholding) and the President signed. By Levin’s standard, Reagan and Greenspan fired the opening shots in an inter-generational war.

That mindset–currently ascendant among a certain strain of Republican–strikes me as preposterous. Unless you accept schizophrenia as a prerequisite for joining the GOP it’s simply illogical that the same person  or persons can function as both your chief saint(s) and chief sinner(s). The only way around that is to ignore the parts of the historical record that muck up your story.

Common Sense An original copy of the original polemic.

Common Sense
An original copy of the
original polemic.

In social science we talk about torturing the data. It happens all the time, the quest for the nugget that proves one right even if it means ignoring most of what’s going on. In Levin’s case he’s playing the role of advocate. Facts are secondary to the manner in which they are presented and that includes selecting which facts to dwell on. Call it what you will, I call it lawyering and it’s no way to reach agreement.

In the interest of fairness, which is not the way we currently debate , the 1983 Social Security reforms have critics on the other side, too. Do a Google search and you’ll find the usual suspects complaining as in this instance and this one. If both sides are unhappy that’s the sort of compromise solution we need more of, not less.

That’s not, I think, what Levin wants to achieve. He wants us to accept what he’s saying and take up electoral arms. He is squarely in the ‘government is the enemy of the people’ camp. In particular it is the enemy of young people who are having their freedom circumscribed and their assets transferred to an earlier generation.

Our de factonational identiy card. Hundreds of millions of people have carried one of these.

Our de facto national identiy card. Hundreds of millions of people have carried one of these.

It’s clear to me that many things need fixing. But that’s harder work than proposing sweeping reforms without details Alow me to dwell on Social Security not because it’s the easiest target in the book but because it’s the richest.

Consider this: I have never heard a single Republican complain about sovereign wealth funds. I have never heard of an investment banker–Republican or Democrat–who refused to work with such funds because they violate free market principles. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an economist–Friedmanite or otherwise–suggest they be shut down and the proceeds distributed to the populace and yet they are  among the most socialistic entities on earth.

James Madison (1751-1836),br>Our shortest President was the intellectual giant behind the US Constiution.

James Madison (1751-1836)
Our shortest President was the intellectual giant behind the US Constiution.

Meanwhile, in the US,  from the outset Social Security funds could not be invested in commercial enterprises. But individual accounts should be, If you’re looking for consistency I don’t think you’re going to find it at this nexus.

Levin is playing an ethical card–that it is immoral to saddle future generations with obligations they have not agreed to–in the service of a political agenda. I’ll grant Levin the benefit of the doubt and say he fervently believes what he’s espousing. But I read history and political theory, especially American constitutional theory, differently.

In Federalist 51James Madison, states “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Society is a construct of relationships between people. In a democratic republic such as ours, the way we frame those relationships is through agreements that change over time.The mechanism is electing people we agree with to get it done.

If you want me to believe you have a better way to do something you need to persuade me why that is. To just tell me I’m a moral failure isn’t to work towards solutions, it’s to disguise a plural ad hominem attack as taking a principled stand.

Doing that is to place yourself among the angels. We all know what wiser minds than mine had to say about that.

 

 

 

 

 

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