Today Newt Gingrich announced a plan to let younger workers opt out of the current Social Security system and instead invest their payroll taxes in private investment accounts. In my view, that would be a move in the right direction. But in Gingrich's lexicon, doesn't it amount to "right-wing social engineering," the label he applied last spring to the Medicare proposal offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)? Ryan suggested converting Medicare into a premium support system that would help retirees pay for private insurance policies, which Gingrich said was a "radical" idea and "too big a jump." The former House speaker's spokesman later conceded "there is little daylight between Ryan and Gingrich" on Medicare.
When the dust had cleared, Gingrich's only intelligible objection to Ryan's plan was that it did not include the option of staying with the current version of Medicare. Gingrich's Social Security plan would let workers stick with a defined government benefit, so on that score it is a smaller jump than Ryan's Medicare proposal. But it sounds more radical than George W. Bush's Social Security plan, which would have let people invest only part of their payroll taxes. In any case, as the criticism of Gingrich's privatization plan floods in, he may regret identifying reforms that offer people more options and more control over their money as "social engineering."
Addendum: Gingrich also called for replacing school janitors with students, one example of the "extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America" that he plans to push. So now radical is good?