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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I am still dumping on this Washington Post editorial

Now I am irritated by
"But if there's a lesson to be learned from the tone and trajectory of the Social Security debate this year, it is how difficult, and how fraught with political peril, it is to fix even this "comparatively minor" problem."

I think this argument is quite common (sorry no other links but I'm sure I have read it elsewhere recently). The argument is that if a problem is comparatively minor it must be comparatively easy to solve. This is nonsense. The social security shortfall is comparatively minor, since its present value is tiny compared to the medicare shortfall and the general fund shortfall. It would be poltically hard to solve even if solving it were the real aim of Republicans because social security is, you know, the third rail of American politics (even so it would be easy to solve if Republicans were willing to raise rich people's taxes see below).

I can't help posting two analogies three times (blogger ate my post once and a circuit breaker interrupted power as it often does when I use this computer). If it doesn't work this time, small loss (save to disk).

First imagine this computer has two problems. First it is infested with spyware. Second the insulation on the power cable is defective and it is shorting out (see note above). I ask a computer guy for help with it (never happened so I am imagining). He says "This huge mass of spyware will take a while to remove, but it is the least of your problems. Your power cable is shorting out. It might burn your house down or kill you. Get a new power cable now". Would I say "If you can't even handle the relatively minor spyware problem, why should I pay attention to your warnings about power cables?" Well not if I'm not a total idiot (see note above).

Or how about I have a cold and undiagnosed syphillis. I go to a doctor who says "I can't cure a common cold, but that is the least of your problems. You have syphillis and have to take penicillin" Would I say that, since he can't even cure a comparatively minor cold, I don't want his penicillin ?

Now, I'm sure that no member of the Post editorial board has been in this situation, because they aren't such wimps as to go to a doctor with a cold, but they must understand that their assumption that "minor" means "easy to solve" is total nonsense.

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