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Another Perspective on Social Security Reform August 9, 2006

Posted by federalist in Economic Policy, Government Spending, Social Politics.
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I am baffled by the persistence of the concept of retirement.  Retirement is for coal miners and cotton pickers.  There are enough low-impact, low-skill jobs out there that any resident of a developed country can work, at least part time, as long as they can put one foot in front of the other.

And why shouldn’t they?  The reality is that this country has neither the means nor the moral obligation to support its citizens through more than 25 years of unproductive “retirement.”  Sitting by ponds, playing golf, or watching TV all day every day are luxuries.  Unproductive retirement should not be an entitlement.

Granted, there was this social security program enacted during a period of depression and high unemployment to get older people out of the way of younger ones, while ensuring a basic level of welfare for those legions of manual laborers who couldn’t physically continue working into their later years.  And every worker alive today has paid a share of his wages into this system on the promise he would get them back upon “retirement.”

But that promise was made in a time when people died younger and when most work was more physically demanding than it is today.  We should decide that social security taxes were just that: taxes.  Fungible government revenue that was spent without regard to the costs of entitlements promised under the same name.

Some workers were counting on that social security check.  Some will need it.  We shouldn’t pull the rug out from under those citizens.  And so we should replace the social security entitlement with a Social Security Work Program:  Anyone who wants to claim social security must present himself for work in a sort of Senior Americorps arrangement.  It doesn’t have to be fulltime work, and it doesn’t have to be backbreaking work not suited to the elderly.  But some nominal work requirement would keep seniors who do not require social security from taking the money.  And we wouldn’t have capable seniors who do take money from the government sitting idly in front of the TV for the rest of their life.

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1. federalist - August 22, 2006

WSJ today provides a useful note:

Entitlement benefits are not a contractual government obligation in the sense that a T-bond is. For the feds to default on the interest of a 10-year note would be a form of national “bankruptcy.” But in its landmark 1960 decision, Flemming v. Nestor, the Supreme Court ruled that there is no such legal right to Social Security. Today’s Congress can promise future retirees a lifetime golf pass and free trip to the moon, but it can’t bind a future Congress. Rarely does a year go by that Congress doesn’t already tinker with entitlements in some way, making benefits more or less generous depending on the political mood.

2. federalist - October 1, 2006

Lest you maintain any illusions about the Democratic Party’s perspective on this question, here’s Howard Dean:

We will ensure that a retirement with dignity is the right and expectation of every single American, including pension reform, and preventing the privatization of social security.

3. federalist - October 26, 2012

Michael Boskin notes:

FDR’s original mission for Social Security was to protect the elderly against poverty. Many wealthy retirees now collect Social Security benefits that are twice the poverty level.


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