Cato on Social Security: Protecting the Rights of Enemies of the State
As an objection to the phrase “guaranteed benefits”, Cato’s February 11th Daily Debunker cites the 1960 Supreme Court decision in Flemming v. Nestor. They fail to note two things: (a) what the Social Security Administration wrote about this case; and (b) the facts in this case.
The fact that workers contribute to the Social Security program’s funding through a dedicated payroll tax establishes a unique connection between those tax payments and future benefits. More so than general federal income taxes can be said to establish “rights” to certain government services. This is often expressed in the idea that Social Security benefits are “an earned right.” This is true enough in a moral and political sense. But like all federal entitlement programs, Congress can change the rules regarding eligibility.
Congress passed a law in 1954 that denied Social Security benefits to anyone deported for acts such as being a member of the Communist Party. Mr. Nestor was a citizen of Bulgaria who worked in the U.S. and retired in 1955. Mr. Nestor was also a member of the Communist Party and was deported in 1956.
Imagine a situation where a Saudi citizen moved to San Diego in 2000 where he has worked for the past five years as a legal immigrant. He has paid into Social Security. Also imagine that our Homeland Security Agency discovers he is part of an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. Even though I’m a member of the ACLU, I would not be upset if this person were deported and denied Social Security benefits. If the Cato Institute would insist that this enemy of the state deserves Social Security benefits, let them say so. Otherwise, what is the point of bringing up this court decision?