I silently chafe when I hear Social Security referred to as an entitlement program though, technically, it is one.
That language originates from Social Security falling under Title II of the Social Security Act. Thus the root word ‘title’.
Once you meet all the qualifications to receive Social Security benefits (meeting the age and work credit requirements), you are ‘entitled’ to receive benefits.
When we think of entitlement programs, we think of things like welfare, food stamps, Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Temporary Aid for Needy Families, etc.
The difference, of course, is that the large portion of Social Security benefit recipients have paid into the system. Others get spousal or survivor benefits resulting from payments into the system by a close family member. Do these get abused? Yes. Is there anything you can do about that? No.
Others get disability payments from Social Security. There are many attorneys who have gotten rich ‘working’ to get folks on disability. This program is rife with abuse.
Once many year ago, we had a man come to fix a washing machine. He demanded his pay in cash so as not to ‘mess up his disability’. We gave him a check. He came and ‘repossessed’ the washing machine by carrying it on his back to his truck.
This guy was nice. He was physically imposing. He was many things. Disabled was not one of them.
Welfare, food stamps et. al. are strictly wealth redistribution programs in which money is taken at the point of a gun from the haves and given to the have nots with the haves having no say in the matter. If you dispute the ‘point of a gun’ statement, just don’t pay your taxes long enough. Someone with a gun will eventually get involved.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Social Security.
Social Security is a pyramid scheme and has been from the start. President Franklin Roosevelt planned it as such. It’s major social goal was to raise the standard of living of low income workers. Social Security was designed to give lower income workers a higher rate of return on their investment. This is easy to compute by comparing the taxes paid to benefit returned on low and high income earners.
The system worked. When the program began in the 1930s, as many as 80% of the country’s senior citizens were living below the poverty level. Today that figure is about 10%, depending on whose statistic you prefer to look at.
You hear much talk of the federal government ‘raiding’ the Social Security Trust Fund to pay other bills but there really was no saving mechanism for future benefits until Congress overhauled the system in 1983, raising payroll taxes in anticipation of the forthcoming flood of baby boomer retirees. That was a smart move.
In mid 2015, the two Social Security Funds, one for old age and survivor benefits and one for disability payments, held $2.83 trillion. But, negative cash flows since have run between $74 billion and $84 billion. Shortfalls like that can eat through trillions in a short period of time.
President Roosevelt, as shrewd a president as we have had, knew that once people were convinced they would receive a pension from Social Security it would be nearly impossible for future presidents and lesser politicians to put an end to it. He was right.
The first generation of recipients had their pensions paid by the second generation and so on and so on up to the present. That is the definition of a pyramid scheme. As the esteemed Thomas Sowell notes, a private insurance or other company that sold annuities based a such a scheme would be prosecuted.
But, this is government and government plays by different rules - political rules - which are written first and foremost to benefit career politicians and their bureaucratic minions.
For years, I wondered if I would see the day when I got benefits from the money I have paid into Social Security since the early 1970s. Now, I think I will make it simply because I will soon be 63 years old.
Were I 53, I would be more doubtful than ever.
Young people should be allowed to opt out of Social Security as long as they followed through on using the same money to create their own pension funds through private sector investments.
Their rates of return will be much greater and it has been proven that, without the aforementioned gun, pyramid schemes are inherently flawed and eventually collapse under their own weight.
Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of the Pike County Journal Reporter and The Herald Gazette.