December 9, 2019

‘They robbed the trust fund’ perpetuates the delusion Social Security isn’t a welfare program

Cumulative_OASDI_Income_Less_Cost_-_2008_Report

Nothing gets the delusional American public worked up like reports Congress has “robbed the Social Security trust fund.” The trust fund is a scam, designed to make people who don’t want to believe they’re getting benefits from a welfare program feel better about getting benefits from a welfare program. It’s one thing to sort of go along with the pretense as a way of compartmentalizing that reality. It’s another to get self-righteously angry about supposed theft from this psychological pacifier.

The Social Security Act is itself a promise to tax people in the future to pay you and me benefits in the future. Now, in order to convince us rubes the government is instead going to pay us out of the money we contributed, the government said it was setting up a “trust fund.”

Now, everyone knows the dollars they contribute now won’t even pay their newspaper subscription 40 years from now because of inflation. So, the government told us they would “invest” the annual surplus over present liabilities in treasury bonds, which would “earn” interest to offset inflation. That means the government spends the dollars taken from us today and replaces them with a paper promise (the treasury) to pay us back the principal plus interest in the future.

The fact that our contributions were always partly used to pay present benefits, even when Social Security was running a surplus, should have made it obvious to everyone that the government would have to tax someone else to pay at least part of our benefits (the portion of our contributions paid out to  previous beneficiaries) when we became beneficiaries. But most people don’t want to acknowledge that because they want to labor under the delusion Social Security isn’t a welfare program.

The reality is even the trust fund treasuries can’t pay us benefits without taxing someone else. As opposed to corporate bonds, which pay back the principal and interest from the increased production underwritten by the borrowed money, government bonds (treasuries) can only pay back principal and interest one way : by taxing people in the future even more than you’re paying in today. That means 100% of Social Security payments have always come from taxing someone else. Not a single dollar comes out of the money we pay in, which is spent by the government the moment it’s taken out of our checks.

So, the “trust fund” was always just a bunch of paper promises to tax people in the future to pay you and I benefits in the future, just like the Social Security Act itself. Periodic reports it’s being “robbed” by Congress or will be exhausted by some date in the future is just noise. With or without a trust fund full of government bonds, every payment sent out today requires someone to be taxed today or new money to be borrowed by the government today (which can only be paid back by taxing someone in the future). That means Social Security is a welfare program, no different from Food Stamps or Aid to Dependent Children.

If you don’t like the idea that every American over a certain age ends up on welfare, stop whining about the bogus trust fund being robbed and do something about the real problem. Stop refusing to elect anyone who even suggests Social Security might have to be cut and  instead start making privatization a condition of your vote. It is completely immoral to continue forcing young people entering the workforce to subsidize a 20-40 year vacation for us. And the first step in solving our problem is admitting we have one.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Should Social Security Be Means Tested?

383px-Ponzi1920Ken Langone told CNBC on Wednesday Congress “has to have the courage” to make Social Security means tested, arguing a billionaire like him shouldn’t be getting $4,000 a month (he and his wife) from the government when entitlements are 71% of spending.

In a way, means testing would be a good thing, as it would finally cure the delusion that Social Security is anything other than a welfare program, although I’m not sure the public wouldn’t make peace with that rather quickly, rather than consider turning off the spigot.

What it wouldn’t do, unless the benefit cutoff threshold were very low, is make a difference in the program’s basic insolvency. The problem with Social Security isn’t just that it’s welfare, but that it’s welfare for everyone – “Everybody plunders everybody,” as Frederic Bastiat would say. There are currently 62 million currently receiving checks. For 60% of them, Social Security makes up half or more of all their income. Millions more have come to depend upon the benefits, even if they make up a smaller percentage.

It might make people feel good to know millionaires and billionaires will no longer receive Social Security checks, but it won’t make much of a fiscal difference. There aren’t enough of them to significantly lower the payouts. To affect Social Security’s bottom line, people who would miss the money are going to have to take a hit.

There are only two ways out: default or bankruptcy. Either way, it’s going to be ugly. Social Security really is an evil mess that can’t but end badly. Ditto for Medicare, times ten.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Libertarians vs. Conservatives on the welfare state

TAMPA, October 26, 2012 – Many people think of libertarianism as a subset of conservatism, but that’s not true. Libertarianism and conservatism are completely separate philosophies with distinct and separate philosophical traditions. The philosophical differences result in very different positions on issues, from domestic to foreign policy. Their differences on the welfare state provide a perfect example.

Most Americans believe that President Obama and the liberals believe in wealth redistribution and that Republicans/conservatives are against it. That just doesn’t line up with the facts.

While Republicans make general statements against the welfare state, they actually support 95% of the actual spending. A key plank of the Romney/Ryan campaign is “preserving and protecting Social Security and Medicare.” That’s more than half of welfare spending alone. They also support government subsidization of housing, agriculture, energy and other “job-creating” programs. They are willing to support corporate welfare if they believe it will be good for the overall economy.

The only criticisms Republicans generally make are for social safety nets like TANF. This illustrates a key difference between conservatives and libertarians on welfare.

Libertarians object to the welfare state on this basis: Any taxes collected from citizens are collected under a threat of violence. You pay or you get kidnapped at best, killed resisting at worst. Therefore, libertarians object to using the taxing power to take money from one person or group and give it to another. When individuals do this, it is called “armed robbery.” For libertarians, it is no different when the government does it. It is the crime itself that libertarians object to.

Conservatives see it differently. They don’t object to the crime itself. Rather, they formulate their positions based upon who will receive the benefits. Redistribution to certain types of people is acceptable, to others it is not. That is why they will excoriate the “welfare queen,” whose impact upon the budget is minimal, while fully supporting Social Security and Medicare, which will eventually bankrupt the entire government.

Continue at Communities@ Washington Times…

Morning Joe Wrong on Ron Paul and Social Security

TAMPA, June 21 2012 — Ron Paul appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe yesterday, giving one of his most succinct criticisms of the Republican Party to date. Host Joe Scarborough had recently endorsed Paul and explained why he had voted for him in his Republican presidential primary.

For most of the segment, the hosts concentrated on Paul’s ideas, policy positions and vision for the future of the party. However, near the end of the segment, Sam Stein decided to ambush Paul on Social Security. After Paul explained his position on letting young people opt out of the program, Stein asked Paul if he collected Social Security payments himself. When Paul replied in the affirmative, Stein implied that Paul was being hypocritical by collecting Social Security payments while asking young people to opt out.

Non sequitur.

Ron Paul’s plan to phase out Social Security does not ask people who have paid into the program to forego the benefits. Those he wants to give the opportunity to opt out would also not be taxed to support Social Security. Perhaps somewhat surprised by the line of inquiry, Paul did not give the best answer he’s ever given to this question. However, he explained it in detail in my own interview with him last year.

Under Paul’s plan, those who have paid into the program would continue to receive the benefits they were promised. The funds not collected from young people who opt out would be raised from savings realized by Paul’s cuts to overseas military spending and elimination of federal departments.

So, Paul is not asking young people to do something that he is not willing to do himself. As he pointed out on Morning Joe, he’s still paying into Social Security right now.

Continue at The Washington Times Communities…

But I Paid Into It…

The left criticizes Tea Party activists who oppose President Obama’s “socialism” as hypocritical because they do not oppose Social Security for themselves. The most common rebuttal is something along the lines of Social Security being fundamentally different because the recipients pay into it. This is no different than arguing for a right to steal your younger neighbor’s car because an older neighbor stole yours.

Most people are aware Social Security has begun paying out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes. However, it had run surpluses for decades that most beneficiaries honestly believe is funding the shortfall until the demographic imbalance caused by the baby boom evens out. Since they “paid into it all of their lives,” supporters of Social Security distinguish it from Aid to Dependent Children or other wealth transfer programs. Inherent in this thinking is both factual inaccuracy and flawed logic.

First, even if those surpluses had gone into a “trust fund,” no one disputes Social Security has always been a predominantly “pay-as-you-go” program. The overwhelming majority of the money collected from payroll taxes went to fund benefits for current beneficiaries. Thus, payroll taxes were taken from one group of people and paid out to another, just like public welfare.

One might argue the surpluses generated previously mean at least part of the money being paid to current beneficiaries is their own money, held in trust for their retirement. This is also completely untrue. The surpluses have not been held in cash since 1939. Instead, when the program runs a surplus, the government is legally obligated to use the money to purchase U.S. Treasury bonds, which are securities documenting you have loaned the federal government money. So, by law, any surplus collected in payroll taxes for Social Security must be lent to the federal government, which immediately spends it on operating expenses. In return, Treasury Bonds are put into the trust fund.

For those who decry this 1939 change as a betrayal, remember the FDR administration had also taken the U.S. off the gold standard (domestically). Had the government continued to merely hold reserves in cash, those reserves would have been outstripped by inflation by the time the benefits were payable to most beneficiaries.

Most people think of the treasury bond arrangement as the government putting their money into a “secure investment” which will pay them interest with very little risk. This is absurd. Treasury bonds are not “an investment.” An investment is a loan or advance of capital made in the hopes of earning interest from a producer of goods or services. The fundamental question anyone asks before risking their money with a bond issued by a private business is “How are you going to pay me back?”

The  private sector business answer would be, “By using the capital you have loaned us, we are going to expand our productive capacity. With the new products we will produce and sell, we will be able to pay back your investment with interest and still make a profit.” Thus, if you purchase a bond issued by a computer manufacturer (i.e. lend it money), then the computer manufacturer repays you with interest from sales of the new computers it produced using the money borrowed from you.

But the federal government doesn’t produce computers. The federal government doesn’t produce anything. How does it answer the question, “How will you pay me back?” There is only one possible answer: “We will tax people in the future to pay back your loan principle and interest.”

Thus, even the so-called “trust fund” does not represent a store of your own money, held in trust for your retirement. 100% of your money was spent the moment the government received it. Most went to underwrite current beneficiaries’ benefits. The rest was spent on other government boondoggles and replaced by promises to repay you by taxing other people. Not one dime of current benefits represents a “payback” of one’s own money. Social Security is every bit as “socialist” as Aid to Dependent Children, Medicaid, Medicare, or any other government transfer of wealth. Where do you think it got its name?

There is a bit of irony here that probably also escapes most Americans. While the federal government’s modus operandi for many years now has been to merely pay off the interest on its debt and issue new debt to cover the principal as bonds come due, let’s consider what would happen if they actually started repaying the principal on their bonds.

The longest term bond is a 30-year Treasury note, which means you loan the government the money for 30 years. Suppose that in 1970, you were a 34-year-old, dutifully paying your Social Security taxes. Most of your money went to pay current beneficiaries, but a small portion (your share of the surplus) went into 30-year Treasury notes. In 2010, you are one year from retirement and ask the government, “Where are you going to get the money to pay back the principal and interest on that 30-year Treasury bond?” As bizarre as the answer might seem, the answer would be, “Why, from you, of course.”

However, the most socialist aspect of Social Security is not that it represents a transfer of wealth. It is that the program is mandatory. The only way for the government to accomplish a transfer of wealth from one party to another is to force people to participate. This is why George W. Bush’s proposal to “privatize” Social Security would not have made it any less “socialist.” People would still have been forced to participate; only they would now have the option of handing their money over to W’s tax-subsidized buddies on Wall Street rather than to the federal government. Imagine if he had been successful in implementing this in 2004.

Free market capitalism and socialism truly are opposites, but the fundamental difference is one of rights, not economics. True free market capitalism recognizes every individual’s right to keep the product of his labor and dispose of it as he sees fit. Social Security denies this right. It should be responsibly phased out and replaced with nothing. That prospect should scare no one at this point. With a government $14 trillion in debt and planning to borrow more every year for the foreseeable future, I would trust the most irresponsible individual I know before the federal government – with his retirement money and mine.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

>Is the Freedom Movement Really Ready for Freedom?

>Ron Paul’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has ignited a revolution. For the first time in a century, a real movement against the entrenched system in Washington has arisen, and it is a movement of capable people who don’t just complain – they get things done. After a complete debacle for the neo-cons in Nevada, the Republican Party has actually had to mobilize itself in several states to prevent Ron Paul supporters from taking over state conventions and voting in their own delegates. They have resorted to breaking their own rules to prevent a party takeover. This is a sign that their political days are numbered.

Almost universally, Ron Paul supporters oppose the Iraq war. Whether conservative, liberal, moderate, or independent, Ron Paul has brought together a coalition that recognizes that the United States government had no right to invade Iraq. Regardless of their positions on other issues, people of all parties in this movement deserve high marks for taking a stand against the Iraq war.

Similarly, we are almost universally in agreement in our opposition to the expansion of executive powers, especially insofar as they have allowed the government to compromise our privacy and to threaten habeas corpus. These are direct attacks on our lives, and we have been right to defend ourselves against them. It is truly the good fight, and we will win.

So, we are certainly united in what we are against, but are we united in what we are for? Are we all really for free markets, for truly limited government, and for individual liberty? Do we all really understand what that means, and what responsibility that places upon us? Are we really ready to live in a truly free country?

Certainly the first inclination is to answer “yes” to all of the above. However, I wonder if the majority of the freedom movement is really ready for life without big government.

Are we ready to live without Medicare and Medicaid, and depend on the free market to determine the distribution of medical care? Supporting the programs means taking the money for them at gunpoint from our fellow citizens, so the moral question is easily answered. Sound economic theory as well as historical evidence indicates that the poor and elderly would have more access and higher quality care without these programs. Are we ready to trust the free market and private charities with medical care for the poor and elderly?

Are we ready to live life without a “safety net?” Like medical care, the benefits of traditional welfare are also funded by the coercive extortion of money. Similar appeals to economic theory and history prove that the poor would be less numerous and would again experience an improving quality of life without these programs. However, are we ready to admit that no one has the right to even the basic necessities of life?

Are we ready to take full responsibility to support ourselves for our entire lives? Despite the government’s official fairy tale, there is no “trust fund” for social security. The money collected from taxpayers today goes directly to pay today’s beneficiaries. While the program actually runs a surplus (although it will soon become insolvent), the government spends 100% of that surplus on other budget items, as it always has. At the end of the day, social security is just another government redistribution program funded by extorted money. Any financial analysis would show that the money collected from working Americans for social security would be better invested almost anywhere else. Are we ready to admit that no one has the right to retirement benefits, and enter our golden years without social security?

Here is one that even I have trouble overriding my own programming on. Are we ready to get government completely out of education? Are we ready to admit that, like medical care or any other good or service that is produced by somebody else, that no one has a right to education? Are we ready to trust the free market for this as well?

To the average American, the questions I have asked would sound like complete lunacy. However, to someone who understands and accepts the principles of liberty and wishes to live by them, I argue that the answer to every one of those questions must be “yes.” Reason, history, and economics all tell us that these programs are immoral and destructive, not only to society as a whole, but even to the recipients of the benefits. Only our conditioned fear tells us that we cannot live without them. Are we ready to overcome that fear?

There are certainly many more intrusions by the federal government into our private lives, but I have chosen these programs because this is where the money is. Despite what we are led to believe, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars amount to only 5% of the $3 trillion budget. Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would eliminate less than half of this year’s deficit. The entire military budget makes up only 20%, and some of that would still be necessary even if we brought our troops home from all 130 countries that they are stationed in.

By contrast, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Welfare, and the Department of Education combine for over 55% of our $3 trillion budget (The Department of Education is only 2%, but after that no other expenditure has a significant percentage at all). Without them, there would be no deficit. Without these programs we could eliminate the income tax and begin paying down the national debt at the same time. The financial benefits to our country would be staggering.
I am interested in the answers that CDR members would give to the questions I’ve posed. Can you answer every one of them yes? If not, I would like to hear your arguments supporting why you cannot, and specifically how you would reconcile the programs with the principles of individual liberty, property rights, and the proper limits of government. In a free society, how does government derive the right to seize the funding for these programs from its citizens? Can we ever really be free while they exist?

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