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Dysfunctionality is Endemic

Robert Samuelson, in today’s Washington Post, rightly laments the evasiveness of the political discussion of Social Security and Medicare.

As a society, our failure starts with self-deception. We won’t discuss these problems candidly. Politicians, pundits, journalists and “experts” talk mainly in technocratic language (“trust fund balances,” “entitlements crises”) designed to bore and baffle ordinary people. Heaven forbid that anyone might understand. Clarity of language reflects clarity of thought. It can create a consensus for action. Obscurity of language encourages sloppy thinking. It betrays a bias for inaction. We’ve opted for obscurity….

Bush and Kerry practice and perpetuate this national denial.

Samuelson here says nothing new – nothing that many other sensible pundits haven’t said many times before.

What strikes me whenever I read about Social Security and Medicare – indeed, whenever I read about almost any government program – is just how closely the relationship between politicians and special-interest groups resembles a dysfunctional family. The special-interest groups (say, senior citizens) are childish. They whine and cry and throw fits demanding more, more, more. Politicians react like pathetic, hyper-indulgent parents. “Yes, yes, junior! You are absolutely right, little darling! You deserve all that you ask for and mommy and daddy will get it for you.”

Of course, the more that mommy and daddy satisfy junior’s obnoxious demands, the more obnoxious junior’s demands become. Junior never grows up. He becomes what he always was: a grasping and detestable boor, feeling entitled to everything and responsible for nothing.

But special-interest groups receiving government largesse are even worse than children in dysfunctional families. At least hyper-indulgent parents face budget constraints in satisfying their little louts’ greedy demands. Such children’s piggishness will sometime be thwarted by the inevitable inability of their parents to afford to satisfy the latest demand. Politicians, in contrast, spend other people’s money. Therefore, politicians’ ability to cave into – to pander to – interest-groups’ self-righteous howls for more, more, more is expansive.

The result is the loutish, bellowing, greedy – in short, spoiled-brattish – behavior of special-interest groups and the corresponding hyper-indulgent, reality-denying dysfunctional pandering of politicians.


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