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An Intergenerational Covenant

As usual, really solid commentary -- this time on social security from Slacktavist...

Also, relatedly but seperately -- over 150 bloggers -- including this one -- so far have joined an effort fight to protect Social Security from the Bush administration's "reform."

But first, check out James' article from Slactivist:


"Slate's Chris Suellentrop joins the chorus of those claiming that Social Security is a "welfare" program. He does so explicitly:

Liberals, for their part, aren't bereft of philosophy. They support Social Security because it's redistributive. In other words, it's welfare for old people. The politically correct term for this is "social insurance."

Suellentrop doesn't seem to understand what Social Security is or how it works. Consider what a "redistributive" program of "welfare for old people" might actually look like. A "welfare" program would be need-based and means-tested. It would not be sending monthly payments to, for example, current Social-Security recipient Warren Buffett, but only to those who required such financial assistance.

A "redistributive" program would be based on some kind of progressive tax, taking money from the haves to assist the have-nots. This progressive tax shouldn't kick in until some fairly high income threshhold. This is almost exactly the opposite of how Social Security is funded.

The payroll tax (the largest tax burden for 7 out of 10 Americans) is a regressive flat tax that has no minimum threshhold, but does have a maximum cap -- currently $87,900. This is not a "redistributive" program.

This contract requires from each of us a duty and in return makes to each of us a promise. The duty is that while each of us is able to work, we will contribute a portion of our wages to ensure the financial security of those who are no longer able to work. The promise is that once each of us, nearly inevitably, reaches the point where we are no longer able to work, that we too will receive such support from future Americans.

I like this system. It is not the only imaginable system, nor does it have a unique claim to moral superiority over every other imaginable system.

But it does work (see, for example, this CBPP study from 1999, which shows that nearly half of America's elderly would be in poverty without Social Security). And I would argue it is a more moral approach than, for example, setting the elderly adrift on ice floes or embracing some form of social Darwinism."

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