Remember that old book, Animal Farm? That glorious, little book which every American child reads in grade school and whose lessons are promptly forgotten by so many in adulthood? Yes, that’s the one. It’s a story about achieving communism through incrementalism. Here’s how it works: you begin with what seems like a noble purpose and you establish a set of rules. Then slowly, over time, the powers that be begin to change the rules…one by one…, until one day people wake up and what they have no longer resembles the noble thing that they were sold, but that’s okay because most of them no longer remember what the noble thing was to begin with. Anyway, it’s then too late, because the changes tipped the scales in someone’s favor, and someone isn’t about to give that up without a fight.
The history of Social Security in this nation is a case study in incrementalism. When it first began in 1937 the payroll tax to fund Social Security was 2%, half being paid by the employee and half paid by the employer. Over time the tax has been gradually increased to its current total of 12.4%. That’s an increase in the tax rate of 520%. But hold on. The maximum earnings that could be taxed in 1937 were $3,000, which equals $48,900 in today’s dollars; however, instead of the maximum being $48,900 today the maximum has been gradually increased to $118,500, an increase of more than 142%. Since its inception there have been gradual but expansive additions to the roster of people who qualify for Social Security; and over time there have been changes to the minimum age at which benefits are paid out. Let’s not forget, also, that at the time it was enacted it was controversial to begin wtih, and it’s constitutionality was challenged in the SCOTUS much like Obamacare was.
With each decade, the realities of simple math and human nature that point to the program’s inevitable doom have prompted our ever-resourceful lawmakers to propose changing yet another rule. They want to “fix” Social Security by “means-testing” people and withholding benefits from anyone who is above a certain means. Means-testing has probably been quietly bandied about for quite some time among the busy little bees in our government because, let’s face it, it would mean the realization of the wet dreams of the socialists and Marxists. Lately, though, certain philosophically-challenged Republicans have brought the proposal to the forefront of the public discussion on Social Security in what seems a misguided effort to appear to be bold, fiscal conservatives. Paul Ryan started beating the drum for means-testing a few years back. Now Chris Christie is jumping on the bandwagon in an apparent effort to salvage his fading presidential aspirations. Right on cue NPR’s Mara Liasson called Christie “brave” when the subject was discussed on Special Report yesterday, so there you go. It is now “brave” to propose withholding a promised benefit to someone who has fulfilled his end of the bargain. Gee, give yourself a pat on the back, Governor Christie.
For anyone who still doesn’t understand what’s wrong with means testing for Social Security retirement benefits here’s a quiz: tell me what the difference is between means-testing and Marxism (“From each according to his ability; to each according to his need”), because I can’t tell the difference.
“But CW,” some will argue, “The country is drowning in debt, yet we are giving Social Security benefits to millionaires and billionaires and the money could run out.”
First let me ask: Does anyone really believe that the Koch brothers or Bill Gates are going to waste their time filling out applications to receive Social Security? Trust me it is not the “one percenters” who are draining the mythical trust fund. Social Security revenue doesn’t keep up with expectations largely because the usual free-loaders have elbowed their way to the trough. Consequently, means-testing will ultimately necessitate eliminating payments not just to the wealthy, but to the middle and upper-middle class, because that is the only way to keep up with the free-loaders. Eventually it will be strictly a mechanism for transferring wealth from the earners to the non-earners, because we all know that no politician will ever suggest cutting off the free-loaders. The last thing Republicans should do is to pave the way for legalized theft by “fixing” this mess via means-testing, and anyone who suggests doing so has surrendered any claim to being a conservative in my book.
If you’re not sufficiently irritated yet, let’s go ahead and consider what happens when we adopt means-testing. How will the government know if you’re too wealthy to receive benefits? Well, you’re going to have to give them all of your financial information every year, right? Tell them how much you have in the bank, how much you have in your retirement account, what your property is worth, etc., etc., etc. So much for privacy. I’m sure nothing bad will come from sharing this information with the government.
In her recent coming out video (coming out for POTUS candidate, that is), liberal Democrat Hillary Clinton promised to help us do more than “just get by,” but allowing most of us to just get by is exactly what the socialists want and hope to achieve by incrementally siphoning off anything over and above what they think we should have. This is not a fight about keeping benefits. It’s a fight about freedom, and holding politicians in our government accountable to the promises they make so that maybe one day they will cease making false promises. Don’t hold your breath on that one.