David Brooks vs. Paul Ryan

July 30, 2010

This bit of David Brooks’ column today jumped out at me:

Paul Ryan, the most intellectually ambitious Republican in Congress … has been promoting a roadmap to comprehensively reform the nation’s tax and welfare system. On the tax side, he would sweep away most of the special-interest-favoring tax credits and subsidies and give people a chance to join a simple tax system with only two rates.

On the welfare-state side, he’d sweep away most subsidies to the middle and upper classes, like the tax exemption on employee health plans. He’d essentially voucherize federal benefits, like health care and Social Security, and increase federal subsidies for people down the income scale. … The weakness of the Brooks and Ryan approach is that their sociology is off a bit. America is not a nation of risk — embracing pioneers. It is a nation of heroic bourgeois families who want to thrive within a secure social order.

Me:  The “risk shift” argument is a phony one. Unsustainable social insurance programs means risk has already been shifted onto American taxpayers. The only question now is how to structure that risk. And the only way to restructure entitlement programs so they don’t bankrupt America or saddle it with sky-high taxes is a plan like that advocated by Ryan.

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Strong families increase the risk tolerance of individuals. Conversely, as traditional family life deteriorates, people turn to the nanny state for support. Causation goes in both directions. Any policy that strengthens the family increases support for the Ryan program. Shrinking the role of government in people’s lives strengthens family bonds. The “secure social order” that “heroic bourgeois families” seek is not the welfare state. It is the social conservative agenda: a legal framework for marriage that preserves families, schools that teach traditional values, government restrictions on pornography and the like.

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