The Social Security Con Game

THE SOCIAL SECURITY CON GAME….If there’s any single area where conservatives have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, it’s in convincing the populace that government sucks. Sure, they got a great kickstart from Vietnam and Watergate, but it was decades of railing against waste and fraud and incompetence that finally won the day for them.

What brought this to mind was an op-ed in the Washington Post today by Laura Thomas, a 25-year-old news aide in the Style section. Thomas writes that she considers the Social Security deductions from her paycheck to be “giving back to my older family members.” This is correct. She also writes that she’s eager to start up a 401(k) because she wants to make sure she has a retirement income of her own no matter what happens to Social Security. That’s good thinking.

But then there’s this:

When it comes to my retirement money, I don’t want anyone else touching it, especially the government, which has done such a dandy job of handling retirement funds so far.

I see a pitfall to this so-called privatization. Is it really private if the government’s involved?….What if those of us in our mid-twenties live to be 120 years old? Will there be enough money to live that long comfortably? These questions keep this 25-year-old holding onto her retirement fund, one the government can’t tamper with. Better be safe than sorry, Mama always said.

This kind of cynical mockery is insane. The United States government has done a superb job of handling retirement funds for seniors. Social Security is one of the most successful safety net programs, both in spirit and in execution, in the history of the country.

And the “pitfall” of Bush’s privatization plan has nothing to do with having the government involved. The whole point of Social Security as it exists today is to take care of people who live to 120, something that a private account can’t do unless it’s turned into an annuity ? just like Social Security.

Thomas is a living, breathing example of the triumph of Republican cynicism. For decades Republicans have been squawking that Social Security is doomed, but the fact is that the only danger it faces is that Republicans are determined to dismantle it. Democrats have been proposing simple, modest fixes to Social Security’s simple, modest problems for years, and have been stymied by Republicans who deliberately refuse to consider them because that would remove the crisis atmosphere that might allow them to do away with it.

Thomas is smart to save for her retirement. Everyone should. But she’d be smarter still to quit buying the Republican con that Social Security is doomed. The only danger Social Security faces is from Republicans themselves.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation