Wednesday, June 01, 2005

First, from Josh Marshall today over at the just-launched TPMCafe:

The great challenge of progressive reform today is finding ways to counterbalance and reverse the pervasive privatization of risk we see across our society. (That is almost synonomous with the concentration and ossification of power and wealth among the few since they are the ones most able to thrive in a world of individualized risk.) That is not only a bad thing in itself, it also undermines the quality of life and, though this is not always seen as clearly, opportunity itself.
Second, from Roger Cohen today in the International Herald Tribune:

Everyone knows the central nature of the problem [in France and Germany]: Systems that are too rigid, that encourage people to collect unemployment benefits while working in the cash-only underground economy and that are burdened with taxes making hiring prohibitively expensive and investment elsewhere attractive.
On the surface, these two quotes may not seem related -- Josh Marshall is talking about the ridiculous fashion in which risk has been leveraged against individuals in America, while Roger Cohen is talking about the ridiculous fashion by which 'stability' has been achieved in France and Germany.

Yet the two are, in my view, flip sides of the same coin. If risk is to be managed equally (and, I dare say, justly), then only the state has the wherewithal necessary to manage that risk. But for the state to truly distribute risk evenly throughout society, then the measures it would have to take -- such as nationalizing health care, or increasing welfare appropriations -- would very likely provide individual security at the expense of economic opportunity. In which case, the responsibility of the government would be to revert some of that risk back onto individuals themselves.

In the end, it seems, the question becomes this: what is the appropriate midpoint between individual risk and individual security? how far on either side should the government intervene?

Clearly, that's not an easy question to resolve. But it's one the Democrats in particular need to begin answering -- all the while bearing in mind that if they push too far economic growth could very well stagnate, and individual opportunity along with it.


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