Policy Shop Weekly Digest: Social Security, Tech Bros, Mill

I had 3 posts over at Demos’ Policy Shop this week. Here is a rundown with links:

Get Ready For Some Totally Confused Social Security Discussions. Excerpt:

In non-money terms, our ability to support retired people is a function of how much stuff the currently-working are producing. It has nothing to do with how much money is in the Social Security Trust Fund. It has nothing to do with how much payroll tax the people who are moving into retirement paid over the last few decades. That’s all meaningless outside of the world of accounting.

For instance, suppose we had jacked payroll taxes 30 years ago such that the Social Security Trust Fund was much bigger at the present moment than it actually is. Would that change anything outside of the accounting world? No. Recall once again: the iron rule here is that the currently-retired are necessarily living solely off the production of the currently-working. Piling up a bunch of cash and then disgorging doesn’t change the mechanics of what is going on. The currently-retired would still be snatching up the exact same fraction of the currently-working’s production for their consumption. The real outcome would be exactly the same in this more “fiscally responsible” scenario.

Libertarian Techies Depend on Government, Just Like Everyone Else. Excerpt:

All economic sectors live off of government handouts, e.g. contract law, property law, commercial law, corporate law, anti-trust law, and so on. These government programs set up the entire system that these actors utilize to make money. But the tech sector’s dependence is even more pronounced than this. More than most industries, the tech sector trafficks in government-granted copying monopolies that we call intellectual property. At the request of the tech sector, the government directs its monopoly of violence against those who want to copy and distribute code or copy and distribute ideas that the tech sector generates. This is not a natural feature of the universe. It is a government welfare program meant to allow individuals like those in the tech sector to generate monopoly rents. Whatever its merits, the tech sector gets rich off this government program, all the while myth-making about how they don’t need the state.

It’s not just intellectual property handouts either. The Internet itself, without which there would be no modern tech sector, is a creation of government research and development. The initial spread of the Internet to households, without which there would be no modern tech sector, was enabled by a telephone network that the government also had a leading role in establishing. And that’s just on the government side of things. The tech sector in general is heavily indebted to community-generated free software projects like GNU and Linux, whose tools that sector regularly depends upon. If you want to push it back further, there is electricity technology, math, the integrated circuit, and on and on. Like everyone else, these folks stand on the shoulders of all those that came before them and the society they find themselves in. But, as seems to be a pathology among the rich, they’ve somehow managed to convince themselves that this isn’t the case.

Sorry, John Stuart Mill Was Not a Libertarian. Excerpt:

For Mill, who gets what is a social decision. The only thing that causes anyone to ever have entitlement over pieces of the world are the laws and institutions of society. It is police violence in concert with legal rules that actually demarcate what belongs to whom, and there is no demanded-by-the-universe way of orienting those institutions. Also, it’s clear that curtailments of liberty are at the very heart of all economic institutions, laissez-faire ones just as much as socialist ones.

Policy Shop (Bi-)Weekly Digest: Merit, Heroes, Poverty, Poverty

I missed last week’s digest somehow. I had 4 posts over at Demos’ Policy Shop this last couple of weeks. Here is a rundown with links:

No One Actually Cares About Meritocracy. Excerpt:

You can’t live in the United States and not be acquainted with at least a handful of extremely prominently legacy cases who, whatever their individual talents, would not be where they are but for their parents. If folks were as serious about meritocracy as they claim to be, these would be outrageous stories. These people should be despised. But they aren’t even remotely disliked for their parental assists. It’s not even an issue of discussion that they’re the beneficiaries of totally in-your-face unfairness.

Heroism is a Symptom of Political Dysfunction. Excerpt:

Certain kinds of everyday heroism will always be important and unavoidable, but the goal of a set of social institutions should be to destroy as many opportunities for heroism as possible. Heroism is only possible where some kind of tragedy is imminent. But a good social system snuffs out avoidable tragedies before they even have a chance of approaching imminence. In many cases therefore, the existence of heroism is actually a deeply troubling symptom of overall political dysfunction. It should not be met with adoration, but with horror and concern.

Sasha Abramsky’s The American Way of Poverty. Excerpt:

However, if there is one thing to be concerned about it is that, as a general matter, long lists of tons of programs and policies can make the poverty problem seem more complicated than it actually is.

Dramatically cutting poverty can be done fairly easily by efficiently altering the income distribution so that the poor get a larger share. If we take the above list, trim down some of the more marginal programs, and collapse all the jobs items into “full employment,” we can squeeze a program down to three lines:

  1. Full employment (i.e. getting to NAIRU).
  2. Basic income.
  3. Negative income tax.

Social Security Pulled 22 Million Out of Poverty in 2012. Excerpt:

The obvious case in point is the Social Security program, which is the most successful anti-poverty program in the history of the country. I decided to run the numbers on the program for 2012 using the recently-released March supplement microdata. If you subtract each family’s Social Security (OASDI) income from their total income, the number of impoverished individuals in 2012 jumps from 46.5 million to 68.7 million. That is, without Social Security income, 22 million additional people would have fallen below the official poverty line last year.

Policy Shop Weekly Digest: Liberty, Basic Income

I had 2 posts over at Demos’ Policy Shop this week. Here is a rundown with links:

How the Left Sees Liberty. Excerpt:

The problem with the libertarian and right-wing notions of liberty is not just that they self-implode; it’s also that there is a more plausible notion of liberty offered up by the left-wing that is only really achievable through leftist political economy. Under this notion, liberty is achieved when individuals have their economic well-being so strongly secured that they can pursue their personal projects without worrying themselves about the potential of falling into utter destitution. True liberty requires, as FDR famously noted, freedom from want.

How a Universal Basic Income Would Affect Poverty. Excerpt:

So what does the calculator show us? First, we could have around a $2,200 basic income for the money we spend on the military each year. For a family of four, that would be an income boost of $8,800. It would reduce official poverty by about 16 million people, and of course boost the incomes of those who still remain in poverty by quite a bit.

What would it take to halve poverty? About $3,000 basic income. This translates to $930 billion dollars ($790 billion if you exclude Social Security recipients), which is about 5.7% of GDP. This is quite a bit of money, but we are a rich country and if we really wanted to, we could definitely make this happen.