False consciousness alert!

We’ve been bashing Thomas Frank a bit recently, so maybe it’s time for a reminder that this whole “people are voting against their interests” line is not restricted to any particular political party. Here’s Niall Ferguson writing for the BBC:

It is surprisingly easy to win the support of young voters for policies that would ultimately make matters even worse for them, like maintaining defined benefit pensions for public employees.

If young Americans knew what was good for them, they would all be in the Tea Party.

I envision an exciting lecture tour with Frank and Ferguson. Maybe some enterprising speakers bureau could combine them into a convenient discount package?

9 Responses to False consciousness alert!

  1. RobC June 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    What’s troubling to me about all these sorts of arguments is the implicit assumption that people should vote in their own self-interest.

    Let me amend that. If we’re talking about people who, like us, are educated and reasonably well off, we’d encourage them to look beyond their own interests and vote for what’s best for the country. In fact, I think we’d regard our peers who admitted to doing otherwise as acting selfishly. (That doesn’t mean everybody’s view of what’s best for the country will be similar, just that we’d consider it the proper basis for deciding among policies or proponents of policies.)

    But when the subject is the young or the working class or farmers or union members or certain ethnic subgroups, it never seems to occur to many of us that they might be motivated to vote for the general good, much less that they should be encouraged to do so. What’s the matter with Kansas? Maybe not a thing.

    • Andrew Gelman June 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      Yes, I agree completely.

  2. Frank in midtown June 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

    “If young Americans knew what was good for them, they would all be in the Tea Party.” It also seems that what is good for one is open to interpretation.

  3. julie June 23, 2012 at 2:22 am #

    I’m young, and federal government debt is only one of my many concerns. It seems that public pensions/public employment are not the main causes of federal debt. I think our wars, social security, and medicare/medicaid are the primary causes of the debt. The Tea Party is not in favor of reducing spending on these areas, so I don’t support it. Ferguson is wrong. I also want a job, don’t want the U.S. to be involved in any wars, care about the environment, support gay rights, and am pro-choice. Furthermore, having a job is more important than the federal debt. I think the Democratic Party is fine for me.

    • Bill Jefferys June 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

      Social Security does not add one penny to the federal debt, never has, never will.

      When SSA collects $1 in FICA tax, the consolidated budget is $1 richer. That $1 will buy $1 of bonds when the government borrows it (the SSA turns it into a government bond). That doesn’t increase the debt either, since the $1 of debt in the bond is offset by the $1 that the government has gotten from the SSA.

      The debt only increases if the government SPENDS that $1. But that has nothing to do with Social Security. That is solely a function of how Congress and the President have mutually decided how much to spend and on what. The government is not obligated to spend that $1. It could put it in a mattress, and return it to the SSA when the bond comes due.

      Medicare is largely funded by a dedicated tax, and to the extent that it is, it also has nothing to do with the federal debt. But Medicare as a system is not the reason that Medicare has problems at present. Medicare is one of the most efficient programs the government has, and it is much more efficient than the private health insurance market. “Medicare for all” would actually reduce, by about 20% or so, the amount spent on health care, since it is so efficient. The problem is that our health delivery system itself is horribly inefficient. There is no developed country that spends anywhere near as much on health care, per capita, as we do. Most spend much less, typically 40-50% or more less.

      Medicaid is another issue. It is funded from general revenues.

  4. Davis X. Machina June 23, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    I think our wars, social security, and medicare/medicaid are the primary causes of the debt…

    One and a half out of three is 50%. Passing is 70%

    • tim r. June 23, 2012 at 3:18 pm #


      • Sebastian June 27, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

        He’s right about wars, wrong about social security, and half-right about medicare/medicaid (i.e. right about the latter, wrong about the former). That makes 1 1/2 out of 3.
        I’d argue that Medicare counts, though. Everything Bill says above is correct, but it’s still on an unsustainable path. A large part of the reforms to solve that should be HC reforms rather than Medicare reforms (and ACA moves a tiny bit in the right direction), but I don’t think this can be done without reforming Medicare to some degree, too – either by increasing its funding or by decreasing the services provided through it.

  5. Samantha December 21, 2012 at 4:31 am #

    It has taken me twice to actually get an idea on what exactly the post in all about ! 😛