My druthers

by Russ Roberts on September 6, 2011

in Politics

In this earlier post about the upcoming speech of President Obama, I wrote:

What I’d like him to say is the same thing I wanted him to say in January of 2009. My druthers haven’t moved at all.

What I wrote in January of 2009 was this piece. The gist of the piece was: Don’t increase federal spending, it’ll be wasted on cronies, make our deficit worse and have little lasting effect on reaching recovery. Instead, better to make the tax system more transparent and fix the demographic train wreck of Social Security and Medicare now rather than later. Send a signal to the world that we can live within our means and act like adults rather than teenagers. I still believe that approach would have been the right one.

When I said “my druthers haven’t moved at all” I didn’t mean that it captured all my policy preferences. I meant that I still think fiscal stimulus is wasteful, that our deficit is a problem, that the current structure of the tax system has bad economic and political consequences, and that our demographic challenges would best be fixed sooner than later.

A number of commenters objected to my suggestion for the President to turn Social Security and Medicare into means-tested programs. That is not my preferred policy. My preferred policy is to eliminate both of them and treat adults like adults. Let us make our own choices and let private charity help those who are either unfortunate or irresponsible. Let charities compete in doing dealing with those challenges.

But if we end up keeping some form of Social Security and Medicare, means-testing is the right way to go. Making that transition would reduce the size of government enormously and make the real impact of each program more transparent. It is what I believe will happen. And if the President were to give the speech I suggested, I would be extremely pleased.


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