Dead = Irrelevant

So people have been digging in the archives of old FDR speeches to bolster their arguments on Social Security reform. Other people, like those here, are trying to parse the exact meaning of what FDR said in 1935 to prove their argument.How can I best put this?


Good God, people. I haven’t seen a worse example of an appeal to authority in a looong time. FDR’s opinions on what the proper form of social security should be are not germane to the ongoing policy discussion. I’ll blame everybody on both sides of the aisle who uses this to advocate any specific policy measure. FDR had a limited and mostly incorrect understanding of economics and the economic effects of government policy on the best of days. Why should anybody care what he thought about any economic issue? Even if by some legerdemain we assume he did understand economics, did he accurately predict the demographic trends currently unfolding? Maybe that was in another long-lost seventy year old speech somebody will unearth soon. I’m all for using something substantive as a basis for argument. However, political speeches from 70 years ago don’t exactly qualify.

Let’s think about this in the general sense. I favor some position on policy issue Squeeb. You favor a different position on Squeeb. So in an attempt to bolster my position, I go back and dig up a speech by J. Random Politician about Squeeb from 70 years ago. Old J. Random knew nothing about the various social, political, and economic changes that have come about in the intervening years that affect the Squeeb issue. You then decide to argue your case by saying that J. Random actually meant something else. At what point does the actual issue of Squeeb today enter into the futile parlor discussion we’re having? It doesn’t.

Any public policy proposal should be debated on the merits. Here’s a handy little guide for how to do this.

Step one: Is the problem something the government has a clear and specific Constitutional authority to address? If no, you’re done.

Step two: Is the problem something that can only be successfully addressed by the government? If no, you’re again done.

Step three: What can the government, subject to Constitutional limitations, do to address the problem? Draw up a list of alternatives, including the often-ignored option of doing nothing.

Step four: Evaluate the alternatives. What are the costs? What are the benefits? What possible effects will this alternative have on other things? This is the hard and boring part. Don’t forget to try and quantify things like death and suffering. How much is human life worth? These things have to be addressed, and now is the time.

Step five: Decide, based on your analysis, which option offers the most benefit at the least cost.

After this, you can then go around and present to people the results of your thinking and convince them it’s correct. Get enough of them to agree and you’re through. Did you see in there anywhere a suggestion to demagogue the issue by using dead politicians? No? I wonder why. Maybe because it’s not a good way to argue the case? What FDR or anyone else thought about Social Security in 1935 is completely irrelevant to what should be done today. Tell me what the effects of a particular proposal will be, not what some guy long gone thought about the issue.

Oh, yeah, h/t to Instapundit. Like he needs the traffic.


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