Democratic Underground

The Truth About Social Security
September 1, 2001
by A. Wharton

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The fundamental truth about the Social Security debate is really quite simple. It's about right and wrong - the true test of "honor and integrity" in the White House. All the major religions state the basic rule in some form: "Thou shalt not steal." Why? Because it's morally wrong.

The evening news will tell you that the Social Security debate is only about politicians posturing for the next election. That's a bunch of hooey. This debate is about: (1) taking money from American workers by force (ie, FICA taxes), (2) promising those workers the FICA money will be returned in some form in the future (ie, future SS benefits), and (3) giving the workers' FICA money to someone else because it's politically expedient (ie. subsidies to your best contributors or to fund your favorite pet projects). That's stealing under any definition I know.

In the past, politicians made countless excuses for this practice of stealing from the worker's Social Security Trust Fund. They said, "It's for a good cause," or "We will pay the money back later," or "It's only a drop in the bucket," or "The fund is just a fiction anyway," or "SS is really pay as you go." Then recently, Congress and the Clinton/Gore Administration acknowledged that stealing from American workers was just plain wrong and declared it would stop. Thus, the infamous "lock box" was created, championed by Gore, and even featured on SNL.

Its important to remember some history on Social Security. Don't forget that Reagan and Greenspan raised FICA taxes dramatically to build up the SS Trust Fund for the boomers' retirement. So, workers were forced to pay dramatically higher FICA taxes with the (empty) promise that the "extra" contributions would be used to make the Social Security Fund solvent for later generations.

Yet, from virtually the day the FICA tax rates were raised, that extra money was not used just to secure future SS benefits, but instead was repeatedly diverted to pay for politicians' favorite pet projects. This practice was a direct theft from the workers then, and it remains a theft today. These "diversions" are the reason the Social Security Trust Fund remains insolvent today.

I would compare it to putting your money in a bank savings account and the banker deciding he had a better use for your money, and removing your money without your permission. Maybe the banker will pay his tellers with your money, maybe he'll do something worthwhile, or maybe he'll just take a vacation. But it doesn't matter. It was your money, and the banker had no business taking it. You can sue your banker for stealing money from your savings account, but unfortunately, American workers can't sue Congress for stealing and misusing their FICA contributions.

Given the regressive nature of Social Security taxes, this stealing from workers is utterly reprehensible. The Social Security Trust Fund is not Congress' private piggy bank. Nor is it just a fiction, as O'Neill claims, or that would mean Reagan and Greenspan duped us from the start. The worst part about FICA taxes is that its a hidden way of placing a very unfair burden of taxation on the poor. In some ways, we would almost be better off with a single tax, so at least America could see the how the true burden of taxation fall disproportionately on the poor in this country. (For the record, I'm not advocating eliminating the FICA tax or SS Trust Fund.)

The time has come to stop the stealing from American working families. Social Security actually has a net deficit of 10 Trillion Dollars when you consider the future liabilities currently owed to workers. Given this deficit, it is unconscionable to take a single penny out of the Trust Fund for any purpose other than helping to fund future Social Security payments. Frittering away American workers' hard earned retirement monies on pet projects of any kind is simply morally wrong. And even more disgusting is that the true reason Bush has chosen to steal from workers is to give his rich buddies a tax cut.

So, to Bush and to Congress, again I say "Thou Shalt Not Steal". We all need to shout that from the rooftops.