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.