Saturday, January 01, 2011

Charity and diversity

Sam Harris over at the Huffington Post has a "New Year's Resolution for the Rich."

Re-reading it, I'm a little confused as to what he's proposing-- he wants rich people to create "a mechanism that bypassed the current dysfunction of government, earmarking the money for unambiguously worthy projects..."

I'm confused because I thought that is exactly what private charities do-- you give money to charities that you think are worthy. He seems to want a charity that everybody agrees is worthy, but I don't think such a thing exists. He might think more education for already-wealthy Americans and alternative energy research are unambiguously worthy, and I agree that those are worthy charities.

But I'm more sympathetic to the priorities of the Gates Foundation-- I think saving children overseas from dying of malaria is a better use of charity dollars than making college free to all the kids who are lucky enough to be born in the U.S.A.

Why are people on the left generally so fond of one-size-fits-all solutions? Why do they talk so much about celebrating diversity, but are so anti-diversity when somebody suggests decentralized solutions to problems like saving for retirement (private accounts for Social Security) or public education (vouchers)?


Anonymous said...

Social Security was not intended to be a program for savings for retirement. It was intended to be what its name implies: security.

It's not about centralized versus decentralized (we do have a system of traditional and Roth IRAs that permits a great deal of individual choice for retirement savings): there really ARE some aspects of life in which people should have some protection from their own folly. Having enough to live on (barely) in one's dotage is one of those areas. When you're starting to slip mentally from the fine-tuned cerebral machine that you are now, perhaps you'll understand.

Now the school vouchers? That's an area where I would agree liberals have a blind spot.

Gavin Andresen said...

Right, social security WAS intended to be a safety net for poor, old people.

It still is a safety net for poor, old people. But it is also retirement program for old, wealthy people.

Dig out the statistics on the median wealth and income of social security recipients; they are wealthier than the average American.

Seems to me you could decentralized social security and still make sure you have a sufficient safety net. Allow 50% of the money to go into private accounts, perhaps, with a means-tested guaranteed minimum income in the unlikely event a poor person decides it would be a good idea to invest half their retirement in 2.0.

Anonymous said...

Gavin, you are not getting it: Social Security exists for poor, old people because it was enacted originally for everybody. That broader political compromise was necessary to make it happen.

Now you say you want to pull out of that original compromise, and you think that won't destroy the program. I think many Republicans think that it will.

This is such a cornerstone of our society that it seems to be taken for granted these days. This is NOT something to mess with.

Now let's talk about school there's a real intractable problem: schools that poor kids are trapped in.

Gavin Andresen said...

I agree that means-tested programs just for poor people are a disaster-- Medicaid being the prime example.

And, actually, I don't really care if Social Security is fixed by private accounts or letting the retirement ages increase with increased life expectancy.

And I do agree that poor people stuck in lousy school districts is a much bigger problem that, I think, has an obvious solution that won't happen because idealistic suburban rich people are scared of change...