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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Social Security: The Individual and Society


Texas Governor Rick Perry continues to stand behind his comment that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme.”  He could be more wrong, and his statement reveals much about how he sees the role of government and, indeed, the fundamental nature of a democratic society. 

First, let’s get something straight.  A Ponzi scheme is defined by Wikipedia as “a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to separate investors, not from any actual profit earned by the organization, but from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors.”   Social Security is not an individual investment.  It is, as its name suggests, a way that the people of the United States, through our constitutional democracy, have agreed, over several generations now, to set aside funds to ensure that everyone who needs it has access to a modicum of income during their retirement years.   The problem with Social Security is notthat it was set up to be deceptive; it is that (1) because of the phenomenon of aging Baby Boomers, the ratio of young to old people has changed since Social Security was designed in the 1930s and (2) people are living much longer than they did in the 1930s.  These two factors put a stress on the ability to maintain the Social Security funds:  Relatively fewer people are supporting a relatively larger group of senior citizens who are living longer. 

There is no question that Social Security needs to be adjusted so that it can continue to work in the years ahead.  However, that is no excuse for a Presidential candidate to call it a criminal act.  Either Rick Perry is incredibly uneducated or he is incredibly immoral—willing to knowingly tell lies in order to attract money and support from an ideological fringe group.  Or, perhaps, he simply is unable to see how the interests of individuals relate to the interests of the broader community in which they live.  No wonder, in that case, that, as Governor, he spoke favorably about Texas seceding from the United States. 

One is tempted to laugh at this kind of foolishness.  But that would be a mistake.