Social Security and the Fallacy of Government Compassion


By: David Bozeman

The chatter is becoming a roar. With the first baby boomers approaching the legal retirement age and concern mounting over the solvency of Social Security, the first solution on the table is to raise the age even higher. Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner, governors Tim Pawlenty (MN) and Mitch Daniels (IN) have expressed support for upping the age to 70. Bush 43 spokeswoman Dana Perrino recently proposed on Fox News phasing in, not affecting anyone now at or near retirement, an increase to age 69. Fox News analyst John Stossel, a staunch libertarian, echoes the same idea as the first solution to saving the program.

Social Security, of course, remains the vaunted third rail of American politics, the crown jewel of Roosevelt-era liberalism. Even conservative-minded Americans consider the program the one saving grace keeping the elderly out of the poor-houses. Like a national institution or memorial, it WILL be saved come whatever . Just the mere concept is an American value unto itself and we will make it endure, regardless of the costs or the puny payouts or the toll on the American worker.

Nothing written here is meant to endorse the privatization of Social Security, but I do submit that the American worker should not be coerced into planning his or her future on the edicts of Washington politicians and policy wonks. Social Security, like most government programs, offers one-size-fits-all solutions for a diverse nation of 300 million-plus and fosters dependency and conformity. From where in the Constitution does government derive the power to set my retirement age?

Furthermore, Boehner, Pawlenty, Perrino and the rest of the raise-the-age-nowers make their livings in the halls of government and in temperature-controlled studios opining on the issues of the day. Consider that millions of Americans work with their hands. Pipe fitters, bricklayers and construction crews labor in the most intense heat and extreme cold. Factory workers spend eight, nine, ten hours a day on concrete floors, lifting heavy boxes and other materials, leaving hundreds of thousands of Americans with back and knee problems as early as in their thirties. How many of those who publicly advocate raising the retirement age plan to cut six-inch thick telephone wire or load tractor trailers when they are approaching 70? How many would take comfort in their parents or grandparents forgoing precious leisure time late in life to continue punching the time clock? Is this the brand of government compassion for which agency officials are always beating their chests?

The point is not to lament poor working conditions. Most honest work confers honor, dignity and great benefit for the employee, and advances in technology and freedom (with a modicum of government oversight) should offer a promising future for the American worker. What we require is greater choice and flexibility in planning our retirement. One need not advocate the abolishment of Social Security to see that while some of us enjoy careers we want to continue through our 70s and 80s, some of us have jobs. We must further discard the conventional wisdom that we must follow the dictates of a bi-partisan blue-ribbon commission in planning when to retire. Our individual lives and the financial markets still offer options for early retirement (as tall an order as it is), which we can explore while we still enjoy the freedom.

Greater market-based choice would tailor plans to suit the needs of workers and their families, lest the customer go elsewhere. Government plans, by contrast, are predicated upon their own survival, and it is the worker bee who must sacrifice so that a noble endeavor can endure. Government cares little about your aching back, broken knees or frayed sanity, so unless 70 miraculously becomes the new 40, I’d like to enjoy my golden years while I can still walk. Still, if there’s an opening for a congressman or a pundit on a cable news channel, I’ll consider it.

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