Politics and future pain

Both our brains and our political system tend to overly focus on short term pain/gain and ignore long term pain/gain. We put off going to the gym to instead have a burger; we postpone deficit reduction because legislators’ incentives aren’t aligned with the long term. This makes it hard to tackle issues like healthcare costs or Social Security. But could it be advantageous for just the same reason?

Social security’s fiscal troubles are years off, so legislators have less incentive to risk political pain to tackle them. But could the reverse be true? Couldn’t legislators tackle the program’s imbalance by slashing benefits far enough out in the future that the dynamic was reversed?* If you cut my future social security benefits, shouldn’t that long term pain be just the sort of thing I’m psychologically inclined not to care about? And if so, does our shortsightedness make it harder or easier overall to address Social Security?

*I’m not saying this is at all a good idea. I’m just theorizing about the politics involved.

[Quick disclaimer: Social Security has some budget issues. They’re not that big. It’s not in crisis. As a policy issue this is quite easy. Only the politics are hard. And when someone starts talking about “entitlements” you should insist they differentiate between Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.]