Two years ago, Paul Ryan, the presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee, proposed a plan that would allow workers to divert one-third of their Social Security taxes into private retirement accounts, akin to what they can do with their 401(k) dollars. The Left is prepared to attack him on this, sensing an opportunity to bring back an issue they used with great effect in the 2006 mid-term elections that saw the Democrats regain power.
“The very last thing we ought to be doing is putting at risk the retirement security of millions of America’s seniors,” said Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman, who heads the Democratic National Committee. Of course Ryan’s plan doesn’t do that, while Wasserman defends a system that hinders the financial prospects of the very people she purports to represent.
In spite of the stock market’s recent volatility, no one seriously considers the Social Security Trust Fund to be a better investment. As evidence of this I cite the number of liberals—in the government and out—who have divested their 401(k) funds for the purpose of re-investing with the government. That number would be zero. Actions speaker louder than words.
The Ryan plan does not affect the Social Security payments due to people already retired or close to it. It affects those who are younger, who can build up substantially more income over their working lifetime in the market than they can with the Social Security Trust Fund.
It’s people on middle-to-working-class salaries who are adversely affected by the current system. The wealthy can afford to have their payroll taxes essentially wasted by having them poured into a fund no one of any political ideology really counts on when making personal financial decisions. But if you’re scraping by paycheck to paycheck, you don’t have that same luxury.
I believe in the basic premise of Social Security. I think it’s fair for the government to require that people pay a fixed amount toward their own retirement. That’s a responsibility of living in civil society, at least for those who are able, and doing it ensures the government has the funds to take care of people who need help through circumstances not of their own choosing. But the means to exercise that responsibility should be left to the individual person. If they prefer to structure a retirement package around private accounts, then that’s a legitimate choice that should be honored.
When Social Security was passed in the 1930s the opportunities for mass investment in the stock market didn’t exist for ordinary people to the extent they do today. Social Security was rightfully considered the mark of being a “progressive” in that day and age. It’s a mark of what’s happened on the political Left that “progressive” today is in fact blindly reactionary, willfully obstructing the progress of the Social Security system into the 21st century and allowing more people to capitalize on the long-term benefits of increasing investment in the stock market.
Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com