I don’t read everything Mona Cheran writes, but when I do read her I am always amazed by the depth and clarity of her work. In her latest column, “Did Rick Perry Blow It on Social Security?” I found that she has written much of what has been rattling around in my head for a couple of days but could not express clearly. She takes a rather contrary position from most of the right concerning Rick Perry’s ideas and attitude toward Social Security when she states, “On this issue, Rick Perry is treating voters as adults.” I agree with her whole heartedly. What is so wrong with the truth regarding this cherished, yet completely disastrous, program?
Perry rightly questions the constitutionality of the program. The way it is sold to us, and one of the main arguments against changing or eliminating it, is that people pay into the system and have a right and reason to expect a return. However, one of the primary reasons the SCOTUS found Social Security to be constitutional is that “The proceeds of both taxes [personal and employer] are to be paid into the Treasury like internal revenue taxes generally, and are not earmarked in any way.” (Helvering v. Davis) In other words, it’s just a tax like any other. The government can do anything it wants with the revenue generated by the program, and it routinely has done anything it wants with the money. It cannot be both ways. Either the government is collecting it and reserving it for the individual, or it is just a tax subject to the whims of the Congress. Only one of these options has been declared constitutional.
Another reason Perry is right is that math really isn’t that hard. Anyone who has looked at the data knows that the program is insolvent. The “trust fund” is empty, and monies from general funds are already being paid out by the system. Sure, the government can cash in some of the IOUs it gave itself for the money collected by the system, but the only way to make good on the paper is to either tax more in other areas, borrow more, or print more. None of these is a reasonable option. A saying I heard often in the Navy applies perfectly to the finances of this program: we’re [expletive]ing up at a high rate of speed. Medicare is a bigger part of the problem, but Social Security is not an insignificant factor.
The most significant fault I see in Social Security, however, is its very nature. If the money taken in is not earmarked for those on whose behalf it was taken, then any money received from the program is simply welfare. In the debate Romney said that millions live on Social Security, and Dick Cheney was quoted as saying that it is a program that a great many people depend on. How can any limited government conservative hear those words and not retch? It is not an insurance program. It is a welfare program. Having millions dependent on it is not a reason to save it; rather, it is a reason to kill it, violently. Millions reliant on a government welfare program for their daily existence? In America? How is this program not antithetical to every founding principle of the nation?
Perry is the only adult discussing Social Security, as Mona Cheran points out. It is close enough to a Ponzi scheme to borrow the label. The way it is sold to us is a monstrous lie. It is bankrupting our nation financially. Worse, it has bankrupted our nation ideologically, morally, and spiritually if keeping millions of Americans dependent on this redistributive welfare system is important enough to not even have an honest, adult conversation about it.