Saturday, February 19, 2005

More (sigh) on Social Security

We had ourselves quite a little he-said she-said on Social Security over at A Red Mind In A Blue State . The basic brawl was between the Red Mind, who writes the site, and Arizona Lawyer, who was the guest "Blue Mind In A Red State" counterpart. I met Red Mind in 1971 and Arizona Lawyer in 1972.

For the undercard, a number of us, including me, The Unrepentant Individual , and other readers of Red Mind's site had a nice little free-for-all in the Comments section. No punches were thrown, but otherwise Jerry Springer would have been proud of us.

The basic question was "Is Social Security Senior Welfare?" You can read the entire thing yourself, but in the end, and I said a number of things in the comments section, but for my last comment I said this:

"I agree with you that an insurance policy, including this Social Security policy, should not increase benefits without increasing premiums. The fact that this is not yet seriously on the table tells me that the argument (maybe not the particular one we are having, but the general argument) is not about how to fix Social Security, but how to get rid of a working big government program that destroys the conservative myth that big government programs don't work, that only big business programs work. The myth that Hilary is symbolic of big government, but that somehow Kennyboy Lay is not symbolic of big business. ....

".... But what I particularly disagree with is the notion that I am supposed to step aside and allow you and another 200,000,000 people like you make stupid financial decisions that will leave all of you penniless in your old age. You have no more right to be penniless in your old age than a crazy person has to walk the streets. If that does not give enough access to money for my libertarian friends on my right, or if that does not give enough access to the streets for my ACLU friends on my left, too bad.

"The view of human beings that has been expressed in this exchange is beyond science fiction. The idea that people are all going to get rich off their free choices in picking stock belies about one gazillion years of human history.

"The idea that after these same people all go broke picking stocks, they will then willingly shrug their shoulders, and say "thems the breaks" and go off in a hole somewhere to die, is just --- I'd have to invent a new word for it, but I just don't have the imagination for it. Supercalifragiridiculous.

"You keep saying that there is a system somewhere that can make you more money. Not in my house. In my house, I am just trying to avoid a system, the system that is being floated by the Bushies, that makes me pay for you three times.

"I am already paying for you once. Then I have to pay for you again when you set your system up. Then I'm going to have to pay for you a third time when your system fails and we have to set up my old system again.

"That's an awful lot of government spending for you anti-government types to be so in favor of.

"You say I'm not hip to change. That I'm too wedded to the past. But the system you propose was tried -- it failed in 1929. That sounds a lot like the past to me."

I have rarely had an exchange of views change my thinking so much. Before this exchange, I thought I understood the arguments for Social Security reform. Now I realize that Daniel Moynihan is dead, and no one is interested in Social Security reform. Large millions of people feel that there is something immoral about Social Security, but they also feel that there is nothing immoral about leaving people to be the victim of choices that were not really choices at all. I don't understand that logic, and now I see I never will. I think that these people feel that they have the power, either through actual end-of-a-gun power, or God power. I think they're wrong, but I could never prove it, nor could they prove their power to me.

The basic thing I have changed my mind about is one of the points that is easiest for conservatives to prove: There used to be 16 workers for every retiree, now there are 3, soon there will be 2.

But the thing that really hit home for me, that I had to be reminded of again, is that without Social Security, there would be long stretches where I could not work at all. I would have to be sitting at home taking care of my parents and my brother. So now the 3 workers would have to be supporting me too. I am sure that this is true for everyone. I know that everyone has to either take time off, or jump off the fast track (and the slow track) to attend to family matters. It would even be more so without this social welfare system.

Once you define the system like that, then all of the disability benefits, all of the survivor benefits, fit in properly. The Social Security system, like a lot of other things, is not completely about the retirement of old people. It is about making sure that able-bodied workers are in a position to do things that generate the most tax dollars for the economy. In the end, it is better that the people who can make money should be free to do so. The economy is better off for it.

Is that moral? Sure it is.

The most important thing I have learned from A Red Mind In A Blue State exchange is that if you have to ask why, I could never explain it to you.

But I'll try sometime soon, when I discuss the idiocy of the Bankruptcy Reform legislation.