ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Monday, March 07, 2005

Lileks' on Social Security

Lileks today discusses an article he saw regarding Social Security reform... seriously, folks... arguments like these, can't you just admit that your side is on the ropes?

Social Security! [...] I bring it up only because I think I’ve found a new Social Security talking point. I’ve never seen this floated anywhere until today, when my paper [StarTribune, James??? Please... LINK?!?] started an occasional series on SS reform. I bring this up not to pick at the details, which is the sort of wonkery for which I have little patience, but because they’re trying to redefine the program in a most interesting way that tells you a lot about SS reform opponents. Here’s part of the introduction:
You may have heard that the ratio of workers to retirees keeps dropping, which increases the pressure that Social Security puts on payroll-tax payers. But how much of that is offset by the lower birth rate entrance and women into the workplace, which reduces the number of younger dependents that the average wage-earner is supporting?”
This was a headscratcher for two reasons – I assume the entry of women into the workplace is factored into the projections of the worker / retiree ratio, since it’s not a new phenomenon. Heck, everywhere I go there are women working! I think it’s here to stay, and I assume the eggheads have realized this too. But the reduced birth rate? I can see where this might affect SS if we’re talking about benefits paid to minor survivors, but that would seem a statistically small number. Unless the avian flu wipes out half the parental demographic, I suppose.

After the jump, an explanation. There’s a chart that shows the number of workers per beneficiary: 5.1 in 1960, all the way to 2 in 2040.
“But that’s only part of the equation,” the chart says. “Those who defend Social Security in tis current form say that the changing burden looks a lot different if you take into account all those who depend on the working population – children as well as seniors. The ratio of working-age adults to dependents is more favorable than it has ever been. The projections show that future workers will support more retirees but fewer children, and the ‘total dependency ratio’ will never get as heavy over the next 75 years as it was in the 1960s, when the baby boomers were children.”
Confused? The article expands on the idea:
“The no-crisis school believes the emphasis on workers per retiree neglects an important factor. The workers in the 1960s were supporting fewer retirees but many more children. “Dean Baker of the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research calculates that the ratio of all workers to all dependents – including children, retirees and adults who don’t work for wages – is close to highest it has ever been. This so-called ‘total dependency,’ approach covers a multitude of unknowables, such as the cost to a worker of supporting a child vs. a Social Security beneficiary.

“But if you’re looking at the strain on today’s workers of paying to support the nonworking population, it’s much lower than it used to be,’ said Baker, author of ‘Social Security: the Phony Crisis.”
Get it? They’ve just made the costs of raising your own kids and the taxes paid to support “adults who don’t work for wages” morally equivalent, part of your general responsibility as a citizen. Apparently your obligation to fund the sunset years of Theoretical Gramps is ethically indistinguishable from your obligation to the kid across from the dinner table with your chin and last name.

If the latter is the case, it’s nice they’re out in the open about it all, no? They believe that the obligation to tend for your family is indistinguishable from your obligation to keep Theo. Gramps in meds and bingo chits. But it’s not. I have a greater obligation to my family than to strangers. Note the clumsy attempt to equate retirees with all welfare recipients – “dependents” becomes your kids, someone’s gramps, and adults who don’t work. All equal, presumably, in their claims on your pocketbook.

This is the lamest argument I’ve heard for the do-nothing-ever-nowhere-anytime approach that seems to characterize the opposition these days, but at least it tells you where some opponents of private accounts reside. It’s not Social Security they love, I suspect, it’s what it represents. It’s not socialism as they’d like, but it’s all we’ve got. In their vision of society, all obligations to one another are equal – at least that’s the presumption from which their ideas flow. You’re permitted to take of your own first - as long as you understand that this bond doesn’t have any real ideological basis for its special status. It’s a privilege we keep around until it withers on the vine.

Do I have an obligation to others? Of course. But I would prefer the freedom to express it as I see fit, thank you.
Wow, they really are grasping at straws... shoot, I feel bad that my contributions go to support the gin/golf habit entertainment expenses my grandparents have picked up. And these are MY relatives. Nevermind how I'd feel if I didn't get to enjoy the slurred speech, the glassy eyes, and the warm hugs and be able to attribute it directly to my SS contributions. If I didn't get to see that joy and (fool myself into thinking that my actual contributions were actually ending up in my grandparents SS checks), imagine how ticked I'd be.

So, these people are trying to tell me that I should be happy about it because instead of me having 4 kids (as I hypothetically would have back in the 1950s if I was alive at the time) I can now support 2 kids AND 2 grandparents, which results in the same economic burden on me. YEAH! How about I save MY social security contributions so my grandkids don't have to pay for my entertainment bill when I retire. I'm sure that they'll be happier... and I'll be happier that they're able to support more kids... grandkids are fun and I look forward to havin' a BUNCH of them.


Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler