By William A. Galston
For the most part, the authors’ response on the question of insecurity amounts to a series of non sequiturs. It is easy to agree that “a catalogue of woes is not a path forward.” But who ever said it was? Naming a problem is the first step toward solving it. Those of us who argue that we must take economic insecurity more seriously than we did in the 1990s are hard at work crafting can-do responses. For example, collapse of defined-benefit pensions need not mean the end of pension security. Instead, we need a 21st century model that reallocates responsibilities among individuals, government, and the private sector.
Nor is a focus on insecurity an “inherently pessimistic” exercise, any more than a focus on inadequate or unequal opportunity would be. Pessimism is related, not to specific problems, but to an attitude about their solutions–namely, that there are none. But those of us who focus on insecurity do so in a spirit of optimism. There is a way forward; it’s up to us to find it and rally others to it.
The authors suggest that there is a contradiction between the quest for security and the acceptance of risk. This disregards the well-established fact that at least up to a certain point, increased security facilitates risk-taking. I will be more willing to start a new profession, and perhaps fail, if I don’t think I may jeopardize my family’s health insurance in the process.
The authors invoke FDR as an exemplar of optimism and hope, as indeed he was. But much of the New Deal was designed to address the extraordinary insecurity that economic collapse had produced. Is it really necessary to list all the programs–many of which exist today–that fall under this rubric? It is unfair to write this off as the “comforting bosom of the state.” Worse than unfair; it is implicitly to accept the conservative critique of the New Deal and everything that followed from it. I suspect that voters who still fear the “road to serfdom” will be Republicans all their lives (unless, perhaps, they start paying attention to what their party is doing in their name).
The authors conclude by invoking President Clinton, for whom I was proud to work. But that begs the question I raised: Are the problems, the solutions, and the public’s sentiments in 2006 the same as they were in 1992? It’s intellectually and politically easier to respond in the affirmative. That doesn’t mean it’s the right answer.
By William A. Galston