February 03, 2011

Moynihan's Letters

I'm reading the letters of Daniel P. Moynihan and it's fascinating to read the unvarnished opinions of the late Senator. He always seems just on the cusp of reasonableness, such as his understanding of the devastating effect of dissolving of the black family, and yet still, amazingly, capable of puzzling positions.

Take, for example, his pride in Social Security. "Never a day late or a dollar short," he says. (I cynically might suggest that's because old people vote, and it's easy to get a program to work when the recipients are few, the taxed many.) And yet here's a tax that has gone from less than 1% to 15% (a large drag on the cost of employees) and still is paid for on the backs of current workers, not those who've "invested" in it. "Invest" is a silly word given that the rate of return on your social security dollar is something close to nil. Now it's true the average lifespan has dramatically increased, but to be proud of Social Security means to ignore the fact that workers are getting next to nothing on their investment. Yet this is the "crown jewel" of government in his eyes. I frankly don't get it. Even Ponzi schemes work for awhile.

Another issue is Desert Storm. He was against it, but Moynihan's "answer", to use sanctions, now seems comical. We all know the impact of sanctions on Saddam Hussein. It seems he spent some of his credibility capital on that. But his overriding concern was that we'd never get out of the desert, and that does seem to be coming true.

He also is also quite frank about failures of big government:
The liberal project began to fail when it began to lie. That was the mid sixties when a range of social science appeared - Think Coleman (i.e. the 1966 report by James Coleman on the equality of education] - which said it was going to be a bitch. The response was that said social scientists and their craven lackeys were objective right wing deviationists.
On our over-spending, from way back in 1981:
We have been eating our seed corn. You cannot do that for long... [this] was reinforced by the maturing of the industrial economy. By this I mean nothing more complicated than that railroads and the steel mills and the assembly lines finally all got built. Until then saving - the forgoing of consumption - was absolutely necessary in order to make those investments. Now, the investments have been made, they could only return a profit if people commenced to consume their products. The advertising business began in earnest. Someone invented the installment plan. The Federal government began to guarantee home mortgages. The logic of our economy, as of our reigning economies, also decreed: overspend...

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