I see on CNN today that the administration is floating another Social Security trial balloon. Tinkering at the fringes of the Great Pyramid is a favorite pastime in both the Donkey and Elephant branches of the ruling duopoly. Minor tweaks -- and accusations of minor tweaks -- are seen as ways to gain temporary political advantage, as silver-haired AARPers are urged to vote, as they are famously wont to do, according to the twin stimuli of panic and greed. We can be sure, though, that the fiddling will remain very much at the margin, never approaching the heart of the beast. And it's the heart of the beast I'd like to consider today.
There was a time -- not so long ago, on the scale of human history -- when old people's needs were met by their children, in "retail" fashion: you took care of your parents, and I took care of mine. In a way, that's still what happens. Now, though, that "children" resource is (partially) collectivized. That is, the government throws everyone's children into a big common winepress and squeezes the juice out of them; then the government doles out the juice to the oldsters. Every one of them gets a drink, whether he "contributed" ten productive citizens to the vat, or no one at all, or a few non-working wastrels who are net consumers of juice.
Let's look at the incentives in the situation. An individual adult is clearly better off not to raise children. He will then enjoy much more disposable income while he's working, and can still live off everyone else's children when he retires. Obviously economic incentives aren't everything -- if they were, there'd be no children -- but they aren't exactly nothing, either. It is also true that the government offers counter-incentives that favor childbearing: personal exemptions for income, government schooling. These come far short of offsetting the actual cost of raising children, even in mere money ... saying nothing of the time, labor, and heartache involved.
Then, too, there is a principle involved. There is no Social Security "fund." Your "account" consists only of numbers. The money that you've paid in (and that I've paid, too) is long gone. It bought bullets, bombs, or votes. It bought crap and swill for pigs. As Ronn Neff pointed out so eloquently, there's no way for you to get back what you paid in. All you can do is receive money that the government has robbed from your children, your grandchildren, or your neighbors' children. You and I have been stolen from; does that constitute our license to steal from those who come after us, with the government as our torpedo? It's something to ponder; if you reach the same conclusion that I have, you too will be joining I'm Spartacus: A League of Honor.
The Elephant branch of the Corporate Party, when it isn't growing the government by prosecuting Wars on Drugs or Turr'r, loves to chatter about limiting the power, scope, and cost of the Gub'mint. (At least, they traditionally like to do that; going into the second term of Our Glorious Wartime Leader, I think even most of the GOP is a little queasy about small-government talk just right now.) Well, the pachyderms have the White House, both houses of Congress, and seven of nine sitting Supremes. You'll know they're serious about shrinking the D.C. carcinoma when they eliminate Social Security.
Don't hold your breath.