Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Short Comment on Interventions by Noam Chomsky

I just wanted to record a short reaction to the last part of his essay "The Social Security Non-Crisis" in this book. Though everything he says on the topic is sound, I myself feel that the most important argument for social security is one that he doesn't mention. Meaningful 'social security' frees people to enjoy their lives and spend their money while they are young enough to enjoy spending it, and spending that money and living more happily is also going to stimulate the economy by increasing the demands for goods and services that actually contribute to the demand for producing economic goods.

The REALLY free market alternative is that you should be trying to save lots of money while you are young, you should live like a total miser, because once you live one day beyond what you can pay for, you are free to start starving. I think the free market version works poorly because accumulating money is not a useful activity in itself, but more importantly because no one can see the future, so it is fundamentally impossible to guess how much money needs to be saved. I suppose the free market extremists could argue that everyone should try to save enough to live off the interest, but that fails the universality principle (as Chomsky usually refers to the Golden Rule). If everyone had a million dollars, the resulting devaluation of money is the same as if no one had a million dollars, so we're back to square one.

In general, and especially considering how upset his adversaries are, Chomsky's writing is remarkably boring and tedious. Not the consequences of his reasoning, which are often quite troubling, but in his presentation he simply focuses on very mundane facts and rarely resorts to anything resembling fancy analysis. Most of the time he just changes the actors to expose the hypocrisy. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is how clearly he separates words from the realities those words claim to describe--but perhaps that is only fitting for a linguist with such deep insight into the nature of language itself.