Dems, Republicans Debate Social Security

The future of social security was the contentious issue that brought Harvard Democrats and Republicans together in a Science Center classroom last night for an intimate debate organized by the Harvard Political Union (HPU).

Representing the Harvard Republican Club (HRC), which supported the Republican proposal for a private accounts system for social security, were Joshua A. Barro ’05 and Mark A. Shepard ’08, who is currently enrolled in Freshman Seminar 49u: “The Future of Social Security.”

Up to bat for the Harvard College Democrats, arguing the importance of social security as an infallible “social safety net,” were Christopher J. Crisman-Cox ’07 and Yang Li ’07.

Barro opened for HRC, stating that the current system is in crisis because the government cannot sustain the costs of social security without cutting spending or raising taxes, “something President Bush said in his State of the Union after beating your candidate,” he said, taunting the Dems.

Barro defended the current Republican plan of diverting part of social security payments to voluntary personal investment accounts, pointing out that the government currently uses social security funds for other purposes-—which it would not be able to do if they were in private plans.

Shepard later added that this personal account plan would be a boon to the economy because, he said, investment in capital increases productivity.

In the Dems’ three-minute opening statement, Li stressed that the Republican plan would completely dismantle the “security” aspect of social security, since investing in the private sector is more risky.

Cox continued the argument, saying that the current social security system is “meant to prevent old people from eating dog food,” but added that the cost of social security falls disproportionately on poorer Americans.

Shepard rebutted for the Republicans, saying that the marginal tax rate “may not even raise tax revenue.”

After the opening statements, HPU chair and debate chair Vivek G. Ramaswamy ’07 asked the debaters questions about the predicted decrease in the working-age to retirement-age population ratio, as well as the value of private accounts, and in what way social security can be a tool of redistributive social justice.

The debaters then fielded questions from the audience of a few dozen students.

The Democrats also stressed that Bush’s tax cuts will cost three times more than the social security deficit, which Barro said was “comparing apples and oranges.”

Although criticisms were pointed on both sides, good humour won at the end of the day. When Barro quipped, “You ask Democrats what their plan is, and they criticize your plan, and then they propose a tax increase,” he was greeted with laughter from both sides of the room, which was divided down partisan lines.

“I thought the debating style was interesting,” Li said after the debate. “Ours had more flourish...we had to get to the philosophical crux of the question. [The Republican side] just focused on the economics and the nitty-gritty of those numbers.”

Ramaswamy praised the “fantastic quality of the debate,” and estimated the turnout to be about 40 people—30 shy of their last organized debate—but added that they had expected a lower turnout because of midterm season.

Recommended Articles