Thursday, March 17, 2005

Reality TV and the Social Security Debate

Yesterday I discussed at length "America's Idol" Nikko Smith, and though his reprieve last night reminded me of Lazarus emerging from the cave, it's a sure bet he'll be gone before March is over.

But it's another reality show, CBS' Survivor, that mimics what is going on in today's Social Security debate. As you all know, Survivor pits contestants against one another in various physical and mental tests. Each week, one person is voted off the island, and the contestants never know what is coming up next. In true Darwinian fashion, adapting and surviving is often just as effective as dominating.

Last night's Survivor brought an interesting plot twist, where two contestants were sacked, instead of the customary single dismissal. One tribe, Koror, has completely dominated the rival Ulong tribe all season. Through 5 episodes, Koror has yet to lose an immunity challenge and they are methodically wearing down their opponents.

This morning, Real Clear Politics had two must-read articles concerning the Social Security debate. The first is written by Ramesh Ponnuru, found here at Tech Central Station. Ponnuru parallels how Republicans have gained power in all facets of government while the investor class has slowly grown. Since the advent of IRAs and 401(k)s, nearly 2 million Americans per year have joined the "investor class."

The second article, found here, is from The New Republic of all places. N. Gregory Mankiw discusses the reasons why Democrats oppose Social Security reform. In summary, he believes their reasons are:

  1. The Democrats will oppose anything President Bush proposes, in hopes they will finally hand him a humiliating political defeat.
  2. Social Security reform could end the other long-time Democratic wedge issue pitting "the working class" vs. "Big Business."
  3. Democrat elites think they are smart enough to manage their own retirement accounts, but the unwashed masses are incapable of doing so.
The reason Ponnoru's piece is relevant is because it explains how the U.S. political landscape is changing. It's also important to note that there are many other changes going on in our world, not just a growing investor class (the blogosphere is another important example of modern change). None of us know exactly what surprises tomorrow brings. It's the same in Survivor. The Mankiw piece shows how the Democrats either refuse or are unable to adapt to those changes in the political landscape. And also like Survivor, the tribe that can't adapt loses.

It remains to be seen if the Democrats will adjust their strategery in the Social Security debate. So far they have not. Like the hapless Ulong tribe, the Democrats will have to come up with some answers if they hope to pick up congressional seats, win back the white house, or set this country's political agenda any time soon.
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