Social Security shouldn’t be a political football
Someone asked me not too long ago if I thought private investment accounts as part of Social Security was a good idea.So I gave them an honest answer.”Darned if I know,” I said.Other than some sound bites I caught on CNN and the occasional radio piece on NPR during the ride to and from work, I’d not paid a lot of attention to the debate on Social Security.So, thinking I really ought to have a more studied opinion, I spent a little time on the web last week – type in “social security reform” in Google and you’ll get 9,040,000 results, the majority of which appear to be of the “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” variety. I did find several good op/ed pieces to read, and numerous poll results.
I find it interesting that many of the polls I saw offered just three choices – approve, disapprove and no opinion or undecided – for the questions asked.For example the USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll conducted the past weekend found that 35 percent approved of Bush’s Social Security plan, 56 percent disapproved and 9 percent had no opinion.Those polls would be a lot more interesting, and I’m thinking much more accurate, if the choices included “Darned if I know” or “I’m really not bright enough to answer that question” or “Let someone else decide” or “I’m too lazy to have formed an intelligent opinion on my own but since I don’t want to appear stupid I’ll act like I have an opinion and guess yes or no.”It was clear from some of the sites that pollsters have been hired to formulate opinion, not simply gauge it, which is why you get questions like: “Should Congress leave Social Security unfunded and face the inevitability of deep benefit cuts in the future?”But I digress.Having conducted this exhaustive research, if I’m now asked the question about private accounts I can answer honestly, “I’m really not bright enough to answer that question.”
Wading through the stuff on the web I felt like I was back in Mr. Lee’s high school algebra class praying silently “Please God, if you’ll help me remember what a sine function is I’ll not nap at catechism class this week.”And actually that thought provides a nice segue. God never was much for making a deal, at least not when it came to me and algebra, and neither divine intervention nor the Monte Hall approach to solving what ails Social Security is likely to work, either.I am smart enough to know that.Social Security isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a political football. But both parties know it’s an issue that, if they put just the right spin on, can result in lots and lots of votes. But what may be politically attractive is often ethically specious.Does Social Security need attention? You bet. Does it need wholesale changes? I’m guessing it doesn’t.To be honest, diverting money to private accounts for individuals to manage scares the hell out of me. Aside from the transitional costs that even the White House acknowledges would be trillions of dollars, which is a number followed by 14 zeroes, if there’s any lesson to be learned from the last decade it is that the ways individuals can find to screw up a stock fund might actually be a number with more than 14 zeroes.
If people want to manage their own money they can. It’s called a savings account or an IRA or a mutual fund or a 401k. For that matter, a Beanie Baby collection or a PowerBall ticket could qualify.Social Security was never envisioned to be the retirement end all and be all. It was set up to be a safety net to ensure that when retirement came individuals would have something. But part of the bargain was that individuals needed to save on their own. Social Security was and is a supplement. Nothing more, nothing less.It strikes me that there’s a very simple solution to the Social Security problem – we need more young people having sex. When you come right down to it, the problem with the system is there are too many old guys like me heading toward retirement and not enough young people heading into the workforce.So the perfect solution is for the next generation to start making babies, which requires having sex. Now what politician would be against that? And more to the point, who would vote against it?Publisher Jim Morgan writes a Tuesday column.
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