Social Security and Global Warming: Two Objections to Jane Galt

Jane Galt gets full credit (or blame) for the recent debate among Arnold Kling, Mark Thoma, and this Angrybear. I have two objections to what Jane wrote here:

I find it interesting to note that if you replaced “social security crisis” with “global warming”, you’d find that most liberals and conservatives had neatly switched positions. Why? Because addressing each crisis requires cutting into something that one side values; free enterprise, on the one hand, and the progressive structure of social security, on the other. Easy for me to say, of course; I’m one of those rare cats who thinks that we should do something sooner rather than later about both global warming and social security, so it’s fun for me to sit on the sidelines with my “Tu Quoque!” sign. But I’m trying to make a serious point, which is that all of us look for ways to defer unpleasant decisions into the future; we differ only on which decisions strike us as unpleasant. Deferral is not a good strategy for problems of these potential magnitudes. Time gets rid of some problems, but it makes others, like demographic crises and cumulative environmental damage, worse, and as most of us know from our own experience, ignoring problems in the hope that they’ll go away generally results in a full scale disaster rather than a manageable inconvenience.

Arnold is posing the Social Security problem in terms of a lack of precautionary savings. Jane suggests we liberals object to more savings, which cannot be true at least for this liberal. My objection to the Bush tax cuts was precisely because it lowered national savings. In his comments to my earlier post, Arnold appeared (to me at least) to change his position every time I tried to pin it down. My Update II basically took his comment that the precautionary savings should come from stripping future benefits from the working poor so we don’t have to tax the “investor class”. OK, now we are getting to my objection as this strikes me as a transfer of wealth from the working poor to the investor class. That’s what liberals are objecting to – not a call for more savings.

But my other objection to the analogy between the two long-run issues goes to the claim that money is fungible (perfect substitutes) to the realization that the global warming debate is over two goods that are not perfect substitutes: (a) a climate more favorable to general wellbeing and productivity; and (b) material goods (including productive machinery). I trust Arnold Kling and Jane Galt understand that these two are not perfect substitutes.