the absurd observers

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The unfairness of Social Security


In today's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne argues that the redistributions of Social Security which will only grow to encompass a far greater share of the budet are not unfair becasue old people depend on it to stay out of poverty:

Consider that for about 20 percent of retirees, every penny of their income comes from Social Security. Social Security provides half or more of the income of nearly two-thirds of the elderly. Greedy is not a word that comes to mind to describe such people.

The trouble with this arguement is that it assumes retirement is a legitimate option when the financing for such a retirement comes from the work of those younger people who pay into the system. Social security was conceived of at a time when people died shortly after retiring. Now people live for several years after retirement. People who are retired and depend on social security to sustain them are not necessarily infirmed or incapable of working, they simply seek the leisure that retirement affords. The question becomes whether it is legitimate for healty, able-bodied people to expect other people to financially support them.

The answer to this question is not necessarilly no, if they have supported prior generations' similar retirement. No one would seriously dispute that people deserve to have the benefits they provided to others returned to others. However, when the benefits retirees receive are several times greater than what they paid into the system a question of equity seriously arises.

As a soicety we offer meager welfare benefits to those who do not work when they are able to do so. After two years, we completely cut them off. When perfectly able-bodied 65 year olds demand the right to retire and recieve far greater benefits from the government for the remainder of their lives, they ought not be immune from criticism. When they receive so much money that it stands to bankrupt other social programs, including those that help people below the povery line, it is legitimate to label them greedy.


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