Monday, April 8, 2013

President Obama rejects the slippery slope argument - back in 2006

Almost everyone arguing against the use of chained CPI has engaged in the slippery slope argument. While they don't - of course - use those words to describe it, here's how it sounds.
...offering Social Security cuts today becomes the benchmark for negotiations in the future.

Rhetoric itself has consequences, even if it doesn't lead to legislation. Rhetoric communicates values. Rhetoric creates starting points for new battles ahead. And the rhetoric of cutting Social Security for no good reason is terrible for Democrats politically, and terrible for the country as a matter of public policy.
I recently ran across a video of President (then-Senator) Obama rejecting the slippery slope argument back in 2006. He was speaking at the launch of the Brookings Institute's Hamilton Project. These remarks come at about 1:40.

Unfortunately, while the world has changed around us, Washington has been remarkably slow to adapt twenty-first century solutions for a twenty-first century economy. As so many of us have seen, both sides of the political spectrum have tended to cling to outdated policies and tired ideologies instead of coalescing around what actually works.

For those on the left, and I include myself in that category, too many of us have been interested in defending programs the way they were written in 1938, believing that if we admit the need to modernize these programs to fit changing times, then the other side will use those acknowledgements to destroy them altogether. On the right, there is a tendency to push for massive tax matter what the cost or who the target is, a view that stems from the belief that there is no role for government whatsoever in the challenges we face. Of course, neither of these approaches really works.
Anyone surprised that our pragmatic President would reject the fear-mongering of slippery slope arguments back in 2006?

As I said before, it is possible to make a rational argument against chained CPI without going there. Here's an example of a pretty good case.
With the demise or curtailment of most pensions, the drop in family wealth due to the collapse of the housing sector in 2008, the big unemployment numbers cutting into many families' life savings, the flattening or decrease of wages for most workers, and the inflation in many essentials among those who are working driving down the ability to save for retirement, this is the absolute last time we should be looking at cutting incomes for retirees.
That last sentence is just a bit misleading since chained CPI would actually reduce the amount of the COLA increase for retirees. But still, overall its a solid argument - even if it is simply based on the idea that NOW is not the time for this kind of change. It makes you wonder if the author would concede that chained CPI might be acceptable in better economic times though, doesn't it?

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