|The Future of Freedom Foundation|
Social Security has always been a welfare program. The essence of welfare is that government transfers money from one person to another, not that the money goes to the poor. The constellation of programs that transfer money from the taxpayers to businesses is properly called corporate welfare.
Social Security steals money from workers and gives it to retirees. That makes it welfare. In percentage terms, benefits are tilted toward people who had lower wages during their working years. As the New York Times points out, low-income workers are promised benefits amounting to almost half their pay, while workers with average incomes are promised only a bit over a third. But in other respects the current system is adverse to low-income people because they start working earlier in life and die sooner.
Bushs latest plan would maintain the wage percentage for low-income workers but cut it for average earners to 26 percent by 2075. Higher-income people would get as little as 12 percent.
The transfer nature of the system gives the lie to the once widely believed fiction, actively promoted by government officials, beginning with President Franklin Roosevelt, that Social Security is a private pension or insurance plan. In such a plan people invest some of their income in stocks and bonds issued by productive enterprises. That money brings a return because companies earn profits by making goods and services that consumers value. So when workers retire they draw on the new wealth made possible by their savings.
Social Security works nothing like that. No money is invested. More than 12 percent of workers pay is confiscated and given either to retirees to spend on consumption or to the government. This inflicts a double loss. Workers cant invest that money for their own retirement they are merely promised the fruits of future confiscation and we all lose out on what that investment would have produced. True, retirees get money to live on, but they need it only because the government deprived them of the ability to save while they were working.
Notice the self-fulfilling prophecy. What would retired people do without Social Security? were asked by the programs defenders. The answer is: if Americans didnt have Social Security, they wouldnt need it.
The problem with President Bush is not that hes too committed to private accounts, but that hes not committed enough. His promotional rhetoric about ownership is legitimate if only his plan matched it. People should be free to arrange for their own retirement without government interference. For this to happen, workers ought to go cold turkey: the payroll tax should be ended. (Financing current retirement is a separate issue.) Workers then could save what they wish in the manner of their own choosing. The modest government-regulated accounts proposed by the president may be intended to prevent imprudent investment, but what they are sure to do is stifle entrepreneurship in the production of innovative retirement-planning services. Besides that, government supervision of retirement accounts will set the stage for influence over, if not heavy-handed regulation of, the capital markets. Considering todays pervasive entitlement mentality, would the government stay on the sidelines when people worry that the value of their retirement accounts might decline?
should understand but I fear they dont that they have
no legal rights over their retirement income. Twice the Supreme Court
has said so. Government-granted benefits can be changed any time. President
Bush just demonstrated that by proposing to change the terms for middle-
and high-income people there wont be enough money to keep
the current promises. Ownership means control. Working men and women are
demeaned by Social Security and must be freed from it.
Samuel Bostaph is head of the economics department at the University of Dallas and an academic advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation
Anthony Gregory is a policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation
James Bovard is author of The Bush Betrayal and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation
Benedict LaRosa is a historian and writer and serves as a policy advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation
Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine.
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.