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Paying Attention to Social Security

I've been taking notice of the debates surrounding proposed changes to Social Security lately, mostly because Josh Marshall has been blogging about it a lot, pointing to all kinds of information sources, such as thereisnocrisis.com and this editorial in the Star-Tribune exposing problems with the Heritage Foundation's -- and the Bush Administration's -- claim that African Americans do not benefit as much from Social Security as whites due to shorter life expectancy (an argument taken up again in today's New York Times).

Okay, so one of my new endeavors has been trying to keep up with the publications that are coming out of think tanks, and to that end, I've been checking The Brookings Institution's site periodically. On it, I found the big wake-up call, an essay that describes the stakes with vigilant lucidity:

At the libertarian Cato Institute, Michael Tanner, the director of the project on Social Security choice, makes the same case. "We're changing fundamentally the relationship of people to their government," he says. It would be "the biggest shift since the New Deal."

Bingo. Once you cancel the zeros on both sides of the equation, neither creating private Social Security accounts nor ratcheting down the growth of future benefits would be an economic milestone. Conservatives need to frame Social Security reform as a dollars-and-cents issue, but that is not really why they are excited. What they really hope to change is not the American economy but the American psyche.

Conservatives used to speak derisively of liberal social engineering. The attempt to create private Social Security accounts is, so to speak, conservative social counter-engineering. Government should help provide for unforeseeable contingencies: tsunamis, unemployment, open-heart surgery. But if there is one event in all of human life that is wholly foreseeable, it is the advent of old age. Why, then, shouldn't people save for their own retirement, instead of relying on welfare from the government — which is what Social Security, as currently constituted, really is?

Tanner argues that people who own assets behave differently and see their place in society in a different light. Private accounts, he says, would encourage a culture of saving and personal responsibility; they would discourage political class warfare; they may, he argues, improve work habits, and even reduce crime and other social pathologies. Create private Social Security accounts, and millions of low-income Americans will be stockholders and bondholders. Republican political activists look at the way portfolio investors vote — and salivate at the prospect of millions more of them.

I don't know much at all about economics, but: Wouldn't there be consequences? My first impulse might be to protest that capitalism is global, and even if privatizing Social Security were to make everyone in the U.S. wealthier, wouldn't that windfall come at the expense of developing nations? Or would a privatized, free-market approach, not only to Social Security, but applied more broadly and on a global scale, really be best? I'm asking sincerely; I seriously would be interested to know how that would work. It's a radical change, and those always require leaps of mental faith to understand fully. I don't know that I could make such a leap, but I want to learn as much about both sides as possible, so if anyone would like to respond or just post some links to material I can read, I'll play the believing game.

From around the globe to your frontal lobe

Just some linking:

The Directory of Open Access Journals, via Byron.

Give Us Real Choices, a new NARAL campaign. Although I support the cause, the tactic -- protest "Chastity Awareness Week" in Pennsylvania by requesting a chastity belt -- seems about as rhetorically effective as crowning a sheep at the 1968 Miss America Pageant. I don't and have never lived in Pennsylvania, so I have no real sway over members of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, but I'm posting this anyway. An employee of M&R Strategic Services emailed me asking me to post it, and as it didn't read like link-exchange spam to me, I decided to email her back and ask her a few questions about her organization, including: Did you send this email to other feminist bloggers? What does your organization think of weblogs as a way to disseminate information, awareness, etc.? How does your organization view weblogs' role in activism? She wrote a substantial and very friendly note back and explained that M&R believes it's important to engage the blogosphere in its outreach efforts, and she said she was sending the link to other feminist bloggers. Anyway, I thought it was pretty interesting.

For lack of funding, Wellesley's Women's Review of Books ceased publication with the December 2004 issue. I don't think this should go without being duly noted. Navigating through the directories is cumbersome, but you can access the archives online, or you may search by reviewer name, book/essay title, or author name.

Hugh Hewitt's _Blog_

HOW did I miss this book until now?! I'm disgusted with myself for being so behind the curve. Today I picked up Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World at the bookstore after, as I perused a display table, it jumped out at me amidst such fare as The Neocon Reader and Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant! I can already tell I'm probably not going to be that impressed with the book; the blurb on the inner flap of the dust jacket reads strikingly like just another technological conquest narrative:

Since HughHewitt.com was launched in early 2002, more than ten million people have visited his site (seven million just since the beginning of 2004). "Why does this visitor traffic matter?" asks Hewitt. "People's attention is up for grabs. If you depend on the steady trust of others, suddenly you have an audience waiting to hear from you." The race is underway, though, to gain mindspace and to be part of readers' habits. If your organization has not established itself in the blogosphere, now is the time to move ahead, but quickly!

From a business standpoint, your organization can benefit from developing a two-pronged approach to blogging by creating offensive and defensive plans. Not only do you need to blog internally to promote ideas and foster better communication among colleagues, but your company also should take advantage of the advertising and publicity benefits of blogging. Put yourself at the front of people's minds, and make sure you stay there. As for a defensive strategy, create a plan for addressing immediately even one negative blog, because in just a click of a mouse it will spread like wildfire, and you'll soon have one hundred negative blog references out there, and then a thousand or more. Blog shows you how to develop both.

With 4.5 million blogs in existence as of November 2004 -- and with that number expected to double in 2005 -- almost everyone will soon feel this phenomenon impacting their lives or organizations. With Hugh Hewitt's help, you can make sure that you advance in the blogosphere rather than retreat and lose ground in this information movement.

While I see the value of intranet blogging as organizational/business communication, I'll maintain in my dissertation that there are many bloggers who do it out of a genuine desire to engage in discussion with others rather than to "gain mindspace" as though it were a commodity (but hey, I suppose it is, actually. Plus, I'm sure Hewitt isn't trying to say that gaining mindspace is the only motivation.). Ugh, I shouldn't even say that having not yet read the book. At any rate, Hewitt seems willing to make strong claims about blogging's effect on general culture; the sub-subtitle is "Why you must know how the blogosphere is smashing the old media monopoly and giving individuals power in the marketplace of ideas." And Glenn Reynolds gives it high praise: "This is the best book on blogs yet, which isn't surprising since it's by a successful blogger who also knows a lot about communications and the world in general." Definitely a must-read for my dissertation research.

Economic Differentials in the Tennessee Valley: Barbie as Lens

Only those of us who have lived in the Tennessee Valley, which consists of the Quad Cities (Florence, Sheffield, Muscle Shoals, and Tuscumbia) and some surrounding towns, can truly understand this email forward I received today, but I share it because these stark class differences, and snotty attitudes on some people's part, as represented here -- seem to be fairly common in the south in general. To those who know more about economics in the south than I do, and that would be just about anyone, am I wrong? I'm making a casual observation here.

I heart the New York Times today

Good for them for taking a sensible stand.

Lawrence Summers Mini-Portal

You've all read the stories -- 14 January, 17 January, 18 January, 19 January (and another 19 January, Chronicle subscribers only) -- and responses by P.Z. Myers, Prof. B, Michael Bérubé, and others (including hundreds of people at Slashdot). I have nothing to add except the following observation, which others might have made already, but not to my knowledge: Isn't it interesting to consider BioDeterminismGate along with this story and this one?

Ack just saying.

Empty Nests, and Hearts

Today's Yesterday's NYT has an article that's sure to generate some discussion on feminist blogs: The lead of Empty Nests, and Hearts reports that "[o]ver the past 30 years, the fraction of women over 40 who have no children has nearly doubled, to about a fifth. According to the Gallup Organization, 70 percent of these women regret that they have no kids." The article goes on to critique the lack of flexibility in our workforce for what makes sense for women, so that women don't have to a.) not have children at all for the sake of their careers or b.) face the probability that their careers will enter a state of arrested development (they'll either be on the backburner, because there's only so much time and energy in one day/one person, or jettisoned completely for several years, and who knows if by the end of that period the opportunities will still be there?).

This problem has been discussed extensively in books, in the Chronicle, on Invisible Adjunct, Misbehaving, and many other places. I'm also reminded of (haunted by?) a post by Halley Suitt in which she writes, "And what about babies? I had one -- when I was 39 and had been in software and information services sales for a long time. If I had to do it over again. I'd have more babies earlier."

Sigh. Anyone got any new ideas for large-scale reform? If so, please share 'em; if not, feel free to lament here.

Musings on Grey

Krista and Lauren point to a thoughtful post by Ayelet Waldman in response to Frances Kissling's essay Is There Life After Roe: How to Think About the Fetus. They both quote this passage:

To be relevant to the contemporary world, to be valid, the pro-choice movement must listen to pregnant women. We must listen to the woman and value her words. A woman who is unwillingly pregnant, whose pregnancy at, say, 10 weeks, is nothing more than a source of desperation, of misery, knows one truth and we must respect it and honor it. A pregnant woman whose 4 month-old fetus has Down’s Syndrome knows another truth, and we must respect that, too. A pregnant woman whose batterer kicks her in the stomach, trying to end her baby's life, knows another truth. Respecting the truths of these pregnant women allows us to deal in shades of grey, to liberate ourselves from the straitjacket of the black and white.

I agree, but these insights raise questions -- no answers here, just questions -- that I'd like to explore. Reading this post reminded me of the debates over Laci and Connor's law; pro-choice feminists struggled with whether or not to support it. Connor Peterson was a wanted child whose death was against his mother's will, and many pro-choice feminists wanted to support the law wholeheartedly, without apologies or qualms, because of that distinction, but were worried that doing so was an admission of the personhood of a fetus, a step back in the fight for reproductive rights. I think this dilemma is another illustration of a truth.

I wonder how shades-of-grey pro-choice rhetoric will look. I wonder if the "moral elite" will see "shades of grey" as some kind of admission of guilt. Waldman says of her second-trimester abortion: "I also believe that to end a pregnancy like mine is to kill a fetus. Kill. I use that word very consciously and specifically." Maybe I've been reading too much Lakoff, but when I saw this, I thought, "pro-life frame." But her feelings toward this fetus were, and still are, very nuanced, a complexity of multiple-truths moral thought of which most pregnant women are capable. She does think of aborting in this case as killing, but chose to have the abortion for several personal reasons. Her decision was "based on [her] own and [her] family’s needs and limitations." She writes, "I did not want to raise a genetically compromised child. I did not want my children to have to contend with the massive diversion of parental attention, and the consequences of being compelled to care for their brother after I died."

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