Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Anything-but-Silent Scream

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (pictured above with his lovely daughter - the one clutching "Religious Cult Abby" of American Girl Dolls fame - and son - the one barely disguising his disappointment after yet another unsuccessful Harry Potter audition) has made some pretty persuasive arguments in his public career. None as persuasive (well, maybe this one) though, as this week's gem, in which he claims that a 'culture of abortion' is responsible for income shortfalls in Medicare and Social Security.

His argument goes something like this - stop me if you think it's too charitable. Part of the problem with the Social Security shortfall is that there aren't enough payers-in to cover the payers-out, so Social Security payouts have to rely on the 2.3 trillion dollar trust fund in order to cover the difference. A long-term version of this problem will eventually exhaust the trust fund, leading either to increased pay-ins (taxes) or reduced payouts (benefits). On Santorum's argument, the legalization of abortion in the U.S. has disrupted demographic trends in such a way that, had abortion remained illegal, there would presently be enough (or, somewhere nearer enough) payers-in to cover the retirement of the Baby Boom generation. Now, since 1973, over 45 million fetuses have been aborted legally in the US. Suppose conservatively (or, liberally, I don't know) that making abortions illegal would've bought, say, 30 million (plus their children...) tax payers out of the woodwork - and no other costs. Then, presumably, there'd be enough payers-in to cover the payers-out, since the number of payers-out is (theoretically) fixed. And if we can cover the shortfall of payers-in, Social Security is saved.

Okay, Senator, not bad. Given the value of Social Security and Medicare (assumed by a Republican?!), the fact that any event that makes it less likely that those programs will persist is a prima facie reason in favor of illegalizing or protecting against that event. Legalized abortion is such an event, and now we've got on our hands a prima facie reason to illegalize abortion. Santorum FTW!

But, naturally, this argument is stupid - at least for those with ideological commitments like Santorum's. The argument doesn't work without the assumption that damage to Social Security generates a prima facie reason against some event, or in favor of eliminating it. But then, imagine any event that reduces the number of payers-in to Social Security, and you've got a prima facie reason against it or in favor of eliminating it. Disability from manual labor? Unemployment? Retirement? Death? The decision to have fewer than two children? All of these events reduce the number of payers-in to Social Security, and so, on Santorum's view, there's at least one prima facie reason each in favor of ending these events. But, Republicans aren't in favor of reducing unemployment or monitoring workplaces in order to reduce disability, and they'll never get Democrats to go along with their "Two Pregnancy Minimum" bill. So, since the prima facie reasons against abortion doesn't generate a motivation to shift our position on (most of) these laws in order to 'save' Social Security, why would this reason against abortion motivate us more?

(Please, Senator, please: run for President.)

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