Monday, December 20, 2004

Thoughts on Social Security Reform

A couple of weeks before the election, I came across an interesting perspective regarding Social Security I meant to comment on. But in the flurry of campaign activity at the time I never got around to it.

With Social Security reform back in the news lately, this seems a more opportune time to comment.

The perspective that caught my attention was from a Freeper known as “Nick Danger,” who intrigued me by approaching the Social Security problem from an intentionally non-fiscal angle:

“The key to understanding the Social Security problem is to forget about 'money.' The problem has nothing to do with money, or what they did with it, or where it went.

Think instead about 'stuff.' Stuff is what gets purchased with money. You can live in stuff, you can eat stuff, and you can wear stuff. Note that you cannot eat, wear, or live in money.

By definition, 'stuff' is made by that fraction of the population that is working. In a nice pleasant world, the working generation produces enough 'stuff' for itself, for its children, and for its aged dependents.

Historically, the generation of 'aged dependents' was (a) smaller than the working generation, and (b) not long for this world. This is what historically allowed working generations to support the aged without starving their children or themselves.

This scheme breaks down in the presence of three things that are going on now. One, the working generation is not that much bigger than the one that's about to retire. Second, the ones about to retire are going to live longer than ever before. And third, science is creating ever-more exotic and expensive medical treatments that can prolong the lives of the aged into ranges that humans have never seen before... but only at great expense.

The aged therefore represent a demand for 'stuff' that is higher than any such demand in the past. This demand for stuff can only be satisfied by those working to produce stuff, i.e. the generation that also has young dependents to worry about as well.

No matter how much 'money' the aged might have socked away, the quantity of 'stuff' is still limited by the size of the stuff-producing generation. So forget about the money. It wouldn't matter if the government had put it all in gold bullion and kept it at Fort Knox. Beyond a certain point, the existence of more 'money' held in safekeeping from the past cannot produce more 'stuff' in the present. All it does is bid the price of "stuff" up to the market-clearing price.

All talk about 'saving Social Security' with money tricks is BS. There are only two solutions to the real problem. One is euthanasia for the aged, and the second is to insert new adults into the working population from outside the system.

In Washington, they know this. They just can't say it out loud. So what they do instead is smile and say they are securing the borders, while allowing working adults from outside the system to get in here and get to work as fast as they can, because making the working generation bigger than the one we raised here is the only way out, other than euthanasia — which is ugly — or beggaring children to maintain the old — which is even uglier.

What's really gonna happen is that fewer 'aged' are going to retire. There will be tremendous peer pressure on older people to work until they drop, because the minute they go on Social Security they add to the load on the people who are also trying to raise the society's children. I think there will also be some suicides, and it might come to be seen as an honorable thing to do.

What we can't have is another generation like 'the greatest' that keeps voting itself more and more bennies at the expense of the people raising the kids.”

Approaching the issue in this way draws our attention to a couple of other burning issues. One of them is euthanasia, which Hugh Hewitt admirably called attention to using the case of the insidious Groningen Protocol in the Netherlands as a warning sign. This is significant because it will become more and more seductive the further our society becomes beggared by the cost of supporting retirees.

The other issue raised is immigration; the reform of which is the new third rail of American politics now that Social Security has surrendered that status. The reason the latest generations of immigrants represent a potential threat, rather than a demographic cure can be summed up in a single hyphenated word: multi-culturalism. Assimilation of immigrants built America. Multi-culturalism has built nothing but self-congratulatory smugness among a narrow intellectual elite. This needs to be confronted - and soon.

As Mr. Danger has noted in subsequent posts, we're confronted with a stark choice - euthenasia or immigration. I'll take immigration every time when that's the choice.

Another side-issue that comes into play is something I’m almost reluctant to bring up, but feel it necessary. Americans aren’t having enough babies. A combination of self-indulgence, Malthusian pessimism, and a Peter Pan-like cult of youth has lead to a generation of adults who all too often never find themselves quite "ready" to have kids.

The problem with discussing this topic is that there are always valid justifications for such a thing on an individual basis. But when your society’s birth rate starts to dip below the rate of replacement, something in your culture has become sick. It isn’t normal, and it certainly isn’t healthy for societies to commit suicide that way.

America is certainly not the sickest in this regard. Most of Europe is so far down this path there may be no way to avoid demographic disaster for them in the near future.

The challenge for anyone who wants to reverse this trend is to accept the fact that politics is not to blame, nor is there any sufficient political solution. This is a social and cultural matter - something that will be won or lost in the hearts of our countrymen, rather than at the ballot box.

But I do think there is cause for hope.

It wasn’t until I became a father that I understood how incomplete my understanding of being “pro-life” had been. It wasn’t until then that I looked at the future and saw myself – in the sense that I pictured my own children – having a REAL stake in it. How many others of my generation are having similar experiences I cannot say, but it's the kind of thing one cannot help but believe others share.

Too many of us have become comfortable with a society looking forward to a cushy and comfortable retirement. And while that is an understandably happy desire, it is not worth the price of killing the prospects of future generations. Short-sighted leaders have sent us over that edge. Time for those of us who care to pull society back.


Blogger R-Five said...

A good perspective, and it explains why we can't just print the money in 2019. You still expect stuff provided by whoever's working at the time.

11:54 PM  

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