Washington Post: Ezra Klein's Blog | Karl Smith | The soft paternalism of tough choicesOf course it's our position that young workers don't know what's good for them and need safeguarding -- that's the entire point of Social Security! People can't be trusted to handle their own retirement saving and disability insurance. It's an explicitly paternalistic program premised on the notion that citizens are incapable of planning for the future if left to their own devices. I think that's a bullshit presumption, but that's what the entire program is built on. Why shouldn't our interpretation of poll results rest on the same premise?
What we have to determine is whether or not potential [Social Security] tax increases are desirable. A good first step would be to ask people. Fortunately Gallup has done just that. To some extent all age groups, but especially the young workers we claim to be concerned about, believe that raising taxes is a superior solution to cutting benefits.
Perhaps, they don’t understand the full trade-offs. This is a possibility and we should make clear the scope of the possible tax increases and reasonable estimate of the effect on economic growth. However, at a core level, if people would prefer to pay more in order to get more then there is nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make sense to protect future generations from the possible burden of higher Social Security taxes when future generations are saying that they would prefer to shoulder that burden.
That is, unless, your position is that young workers don’t know what’s good for them and it is up to us to safeguard them from themselves. We must, such arguments say, impose the tough choices and hard sacrifices that will leave tomorrow’s generation with a world they consistently tell us that they do not want.
Via Megan McArdle, who gives two reasons Smith's position doesn't add up. Exec summary: (1) polling people on balancing budgets always ends up with people claiming they want the impossible, and (2) you can't consider programs like SS in isolation from the rest of the budget.