The ownership society promises freedom, but at the price of a huge shift in risk, away from government and society and onto individual citizens. Social Security, Medicare, insurance—these are basically collective risk-sharing mechanisms. Rather than let each person run the risk of ending up destitute or sick, these programs pool the risk. Because the risk is shared, it can be managed, and people can be guaranteed a minimally acceptable outcome.
That's what scares me: the individual risks. Could it be better to face the risks together, with lower potential returns, but also lower risk? Many people have already met with pension disaster. We'll be picking up the tab for at least some of that anyway.
But Social Security and Medicare are designed to protect people from things they have little control over—risk of illness, risk of macroeconomic change, risk of industrial obsolescence. To manage that kind of risk, you have to do it collectively. What’s more, as the political scientist Jacob Hacker has pointed out, Americans’ everyday lives are considerably riskier than they used to be. Jobs are less secure. Health-care costs are increasingly difficult to plan for. And the pace of technological change—which can lay waste to entire industries almost overnight—is faster than ever. So now may not be the best time to undermine the few programs that provide people with some protection against bad decisions and bad luck.
The ownership society’s greatest flaw, however, is that it won’t solve the problems it purports to address. A real solution would require facing up to some thorny issues—raising the retirement age, slowing the growth of benefits, means-testing. By advocating greater freedom and independence, while failing to explain or account for the greater risk, Bush is setting Americans up for an unpleasant surprise. If his plans are implemented, a lot of people are going to end up a lot poorer in their old age than they otherwise would have been. (A lot of people will end up a lot richer, too.)
Have you downloaded the first real Firefox release? Google and Bloglines have their own pages.
USC residence hall billed as world's largest "green" dormitory
I thought Douglas Rushkoff's 'Merchants of Cool' on Frontline was harrowing. He recently covered advertisers: The Persuaders. Not sure I can bring myself to read more, since I know it'll drive me crazy. I did read Matt's review and Paul's (which interprets through McLuhan).
Then, to close with something more cheerful, Matthew's head got attacked like the Death Star. Fortunately, the shot that went in didn't start a chain reaction.