Ms. McArdle! Let Me Introduce You To The W2 Form!

So the centrist Third Way think tank has come up with a clever idea of making up a receipt that the government can send Joe Q. Taxpayer every year to show him what his income taxes are paying for.


While the sample the Third Way drew up isn't accurate -- as Kevin Drum notes, Social Security and Medicare shouldn't be lumped in with all the other expenses since they're funded differently -- the idea itself is pretty cool. At the very least it should show Americans that most of our taxes go to popular entitlement programs and defense-related spending rather than ungrateful foreigners and bridges to nowhere.

But uh-oh! Megan McArdle thinks we smug liberals shouldn't celebrate just yet! Here's why:

There seems to be an unspoken assumption that opposition to spending rests on misperception of what the money is spent on; Americans tell pollsters they want to cut spending, but it turns out that what they really want cut is the imaginary fortune they think we spend on foreign aid.

But of course, it seems to me that this could just as easily go the other way: isn't it possible that the widespread support for programs like Social Security and Medicare rests on the fact that most people don't realize just how big a portion of your paycheck those programs consume?

We're busted, liberals! We can't let people know how much we're taxing them every year for entitlement programs! They'll completely revolt and Social Security and Medicare will be abolished forever!!!!

But, wait a minute, what's this? Oh hello, it's our old friend the W2 form:


And looky there! It tells you exactly how much money your employer withheld every year for Social Security and Medicare! Wow-wee!

The lesson here is this: People like Social Security and Medicare. They're well-designed programs that have saved millions of people from poverty and medical bankruptcy in their old age. Along with desegregating the South, enacting women's suffrage and winning World War II, they're some of the very best things that American liberalism has done over the past 100 years. And come to think of it, that's a damn impressive list. Why are people ashamed to call themselves "liberals" again?


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