Mike Kueber's Blog

May 27, 2011

Right-wing social engineering

Congressman Paul Ryan has proposed reforming Medicare into a program that provides senior citizens a voucher to buy private medical
coverage (so-called RyanCare) instead of directly providing unlimited government coverage.  Newt Gingrich recently created some controversy by suggesting that RyanCare was “radical right-wing social engineering.”

My response was, huh?  What is radical about this proposal?  My former employer, USAA, has a reputation for providing a top-of-the-line benefits package, but even USAA had to reform its medical coverage a few years ago to control the skyrocketing medical costs, and its reform is very similar to RyanCare.  Prior to the reform, USAA had historically paid for 90% of its employees’ health insurance premium, with the employees paying the remaining 10%.  After the reform, USAA promised to continue paying 90%, but only up to a certain amount.  If the cost of premiums continued to hyper-inflate, employee would be required to contribute a larger percentage.

The USAA reform made sense because an employer cannot assume unlimited liability for costs that it can’t control.  Ditto for Medicare.  Yes, everyone – government, medical providers, employers, and employees – needs to be working toward controlling the cost of medical care, but that is a separate matter from maintaining fiscally responsible insurance – whether employee health insurance or Medicare.

Gingrich suggested that RyanCare was not only radical, but also right-wing social engineering?  That suggestion was especially jarring because I had never heard the terms right-wing and social engineering used together.  I had only heard the term “social engineering” used in reaction to left-wing, nanny-state big government trying to convert Americans to a commune way of life.  Thus, I needed to do some research.

My research revealed that social engineering is an attempt to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale.  Usually the term refers to government action, but it can apply as well to private groups.  Social engineering is not inherently negative, but because of its usage
in the political arena, it has come to have a negative connotation.  Technically, all government laws – such as prohibitions against murder, DUI, theft, and littering – are social engineering.  Governments also engage routinely in social engineering through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy.

Conservatives and libertarians often claim that their opponents (the liberals) are engaged in social engineering, and that makes sense because liberals prefer a muscular government while conservatives and libertarians prefer a muscular private society.  But even liberals complain of social
engineering when it comes to prayer in school, abstinence-only sex education, and the English-only movement.

But getting back to Newt Gingrich, how is it social engineering to convert Medicare from an unlimited financial obligation to a limited voucher system?  It isn’t, and I think Newt admitted as much last week when he was questioned on Face the Nation.

NEWT GINGRICH: No, I’m just saying. If you listen to [host David Gregory’s] words, he doesn’t say how do you feel about Paul Ryan?  I like Paul Ryan.  Didn’t even say how do you feel about Ryan’s budget?   I would have voted for Ryan’s budget.  He said should Republicans pass an unpopular plan?   And I made the mistake of accepting his premise.  I wasn’t referring to Ryan.  I was referring to a general principle.  We, the people, should not have Washington impose large-scale change on us…. my context was we Republicans have to go to the country, we have to explain what we’re trying to accomplish to save Medicare, how we would save Medicare.  The country has to have time, the American people have to have time to ask us questions, to modify the plan if necessary, to get to a point where people are comfortable with it and that was my point.  I– I probably used unfortunate language about social engineering. But my point was really a larger one that neither party should impose on the American people something that they are deeply opposed to.

That passage seems to suggest that Newt didn’t want the Republicans to ram RyanCare down the public’s throat like the Democrats did with ObamaCare.  Fair enough.  But he sure made a mess of it by misusing the term “radical right-wing social engineering.”

1 Comment »

  1. […] years ago, I blogged about social engineering and relied on the following Wikipedia […]

    Pingback by “Yes Means Yes” – social engineering in its purest form | Mike Kueber's Blog — October 23, 2014 @ 2:37 am | Reply


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