Another Social Security Debate Sequel

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Editor, the Herald:

A letter writer in your September 22nd issue responded to my letter on the subject of Social Security. Unfortunately, his response only perpetuates and repeats, in my opinion, the errors and myths in his first letter on the subject.

He attributes the authorship of the NCPA Policy Report (No. 246, “Is war between the generations inevitable?,” available on the NCPA website) to Walter Williams. The report was in fact written by Jagadeesh Gokhale and Laurence J. Kotlikoff. Williams, a newspaper columnist, selectively cribbed the report for a column on which the letter writer based his original letter. It is better to go back to original sources when you speak or write for the public.

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The letter says “the government has been raiding the Social Security system for decades….what is left is a paper stack of IOUs.” Not true. As I pointed out in my first letter, the Social Security Trust Fund is invested in United States Government Bonds, the world's safest investment. The United States, in its entire history, has never missed an interest payment on its bonds. Don't we all recognize US Bonds as the epitome of safe investment by buying them for our children on their birthdays? Do we instead think that our bank safety deposit boxes are full of “a paper stack of IOUs?”

According to the letter, the money in those bonds was invested in “wasteful programs.” Such as, I suppose, national defense, the interstate highway system and federal aid to education.

The letter focuses on hypothetical individual outcomes from Social Security. Indeed, a proportion of the people paying into Social Security will die before they retire, or shortly thereafter, and others will live decades after retirement. Obviously the outcomes are different. But Social Security is not something we do for ourselves alone, it is for all of us. We have made a social compact to protect our society against the moral and monetary costs of our older citizens sinking into poverty. If the letter writer believes that we should all be on our own, he should stop driving on the public highways, or relying on community police and fire protection. But this is no longer the frontier; we live in a developed and close-knit society in which we depend on each other and our institutions, including representative government.

What is the agenda of those who would privatize Social Security? Undoubtedly, some, the letter writer included, honestly believe that it would be better for individuals if they were to make their own investments. But should we not “follow the money,” as cynical observers say? The financial businesses that precipitated the current economic crisis would get billions more dollars with which to play their deceptive games and to pour into their inflated salaries and bonuses. So is it any wonder that these interests are fueling the right-wing noise machine with loads of cash, promoting misunderstandings about Social Security and beating the drum for privatization? They would profit immensely while the small, individual investor would be subject to the ups and downs of a volatile market.

Instead, let's apply true conservative methods: examine the situation dispassionately and objectively, preserve what is good and repair what requires adjustment for our changing times. Above all, we need the facts, not preconceived political notions.

Bill Shear