I’m intrigued with this line of thought from Arnold Kling in terms of political theory:
I believe that the need for saving has grown tremendously over the past century, primarily because the lifespan has lengthened and more medical care for the elderly is available and desired. I don’t think that as individuals or as public policy advocates we have come to terms with this increased need for savings.
Also, we have very different propensities to save. Given the huge need for savings, what this could lead to is a world where the savers subsidize the spendthrifts. I don’t think it’s fair that if I consume temperately and save carefully for future contingencies that I should then be viewed as a “soft target” for soak-the-rich tax policies. I want to force other people to save, so that they do not come whining to me (or to the government) when they don’t have money to pay their health bills when they get older.
From a purist libertarian perspective forced savings are right out because they are, well, forced. But if we take it as probable that people who fail to save will lobby the government to transfer wealth from those who have saved, then the choice is not between voluntariness and coercion, but between forms of coercion. (You could say that Cato, a major proponent of social security privatization, is ipso facto, a major proponent of forced savings.) Although forced savings is a violation of some elements in the property right bundle (you can’t use your property any way you like until the time comes), it at least preserves some property right. In contrast, a transfer program runs roughshod over property rights. Others’ needs trumps one’s property.
When you think about it, they’re both transfer programs. In the case of forced savings, the transfer is from your present self to your future self. The liberty of your present self is limited, but you at least have some chance of later internalizing the benefits of the limitation on your liberty. (It’s also a transfer away from those whose businesses benefit from high levels of present consumption.) In the straightforward transfer case, the transfer runs from you to somebody else entirely.
It strikes me that the left ought to prefer forced savings over outright wealth transfer in at least many cases. I can’t see how a welfare liberal can account for the justice of transfers in cases where people become deprived in old age due to their own failure to plan and save. Arnold is right that it’s not fair that a prudent fellow who forgoes present consumption should get taken to the cleaners down the line by those who happily enjoyed their higher discount rates until the income started to dry up. It seem right for Arnold to demand that those who might be inclined in the future to predate upon his savings be forced to save in order to preserve his own future stash. An added benefit is that by forcing people to save, you create a more widely distributed vested interest in the performance of the market. Indeed, forced savings strikes me as so much better than redistribution, it puzzles me why liberals haven’t been long promoting it as a partial alternative to redistribution. Or have they?