by Dale Coberly 

Social Security…Hearts and Minds

Tom Margenau wrote an essay about the payroll tax holiday in The National Memo Is Your Tax Holiday Gift A Lump of Coal? His essay seemed to me to illustrate one of the problems with the Social Security “debate” as it has been constructed.

Margenau  describes himself as “not very good with numbers,” but someone who has been accused of being “a bleeding heart liberal.” “But,” he says, “this is one liberal who gives the Republicans credit… at least they are willing to talk about it.” The trouble with all this is that Margenau does not understand the numbers, so he is giving the Republicans credit for being willing to talk about a problem that does not exist.

This is exactly what “liberals” have been doing: searching, searching for a way to ease their bleeding hearts by solving the huge, terrible problem that only looks huge when you don’t understand the numbers.

Margenau cites the famous “in less than 20 years there will be only two workers supporting each retiree.” And he proposes “relatively modest changes… bumping up the retirement age..”

You may read his full essay at the place cited. Easiest for me to simply reprint here the reply I sent to him.

“Tom, Your heart is in the right place, but you miss the critical point. Social Security is not welfare. It is critically important that it is not welfare. FDR understood this so he made it “worker paid” insurance, “so no damn pollitician can take it away from them.” Social Security was never in trouble. 

All that 3 to 1 and 2 to 1 worker to retiree ratio is lying nonsense meant to impose on people whose math skills are not very good. What it amounts to is that if people are going to live longer… say 20 years after working 40 years, instead of 13 years after working 40 years, they will need to save about one third more each month for their own retirement.

This means raising the payroll tax from 6% to about 8%. And since the change in life expectancy is not going to happen all at once, it means we can raise the payroll tax one half of one tenth of one percent each year. 

This is an increase of 40 cents per week for the average worker today. And while the increase gets bigger over time, so do wages. So the increase will never be felt as more of a burden than that 40 cents per week. AND the workers will get the money back, with interest, so they can look forward to a longer retirement with better benefits than today’s retirees. 

The Republicans were not being more responsible… they were telling a Big Lie. They could get away with it because the average person is innumerate, and the average liberal no longer understands the important difference between Social Security and welfare. It is probably too late, but it would help if the people who think SS is important at least understood the facts and the basic principle.

Margenau replied to me that “the worker to beneficiary ratio is not lying nonsense. It is critically important.” And indeed it is. It is fundamental. But it doesn’t mean what he thinks it means. All it means is that if we are going to live longer we are going to have to save more for our retirement. The “more” is not burdensome.

But working an extra year could be hell for many people. Meanwhile, Our President, and his Friends Across the Aisle have killed Social Security. They did it by the breathtakingly bold and easy step of just taking away its funding by calling for a “payroll tax holiday.”

The Democrats …Democrats!… are now running on the issue of making the payroll tax holiday permanent “to avoid a huge tax increase on the middle class.” The lying is sickening. But the people will go for it. And the Republicans will cry, “Oh no, not the briar patch! Don’t throw me in dat briar patch Br’er Obama.”

And laugh up their sleeves while the “progressives” think they have scored a huge win for the poor. And the poor will never understand what happened until they go to retire and learn they’ve had another year added on to their sentence, or have to go to the welfare office to prove they need “benefits,” and they better bring a note from their doctor saying they only have one more year to live.

The only way out of this would be a sudden demand by a hundred million working people to “raise our taxes! give us back our Social Security!”