And in the real world of retirement, Social Security is a shining example of a system that works. It’s simple and clean, with low operating costs and minimal bureaucracy. It provides older Americans who worked hard all their lives with a chance of living decently in retirement, without requiring that they show an inhuman ability to think decades ahead and be investment whizzes as well. The only problem is that the decline of private pensions, and their replacement with inadequate 401(k)-type plans, has left a gap that Social Security isn’t currently big enough to fill. So why not make it bigger?
Needless to say, suggestions along these lines are already provoking near-hysterical reactions, not just from the right, but from self-proclaimed centrists. As I wrote some years ago, calling for cuts to Social Security has long been seen inside the Beltway as a “badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are.” And it’s only a decade since former President George W. Bush tried to privatize the program, with a lot of centrist support.
But true seriousness means looking at what works and what doesn’t. Privatized retirement schemes work very badly; Social Security works very well. And we should build on that success.The "why not make it bigger?" question is likely to provoke two sorts of answers: those that revolve around "we can't afford it," and those based on the ideological position that it's morally wrong. Those two sorts of answers are laughably wrong-headed.
We certainly can afford it. It reduces to a question of priorities; this should be one of our highest. What we can't afford are planes that don't fly, wars that don't make us safer, subsidies for immensely profitable businesses, and handouts to wealthy.
The argument that Social Security is wrong because it makes people lazy, steals from the rich, is socialism/communism/fascism/that-ism-oligarchs-use-to-scare-the-ill-informed, or is in some way a violation of our basic liberties is an argument that's been had and settled to satisfaction of all but the most cruel of the aforementioned oligarchs, and their dupes. We know what U.S. society looks like without Social Security (and several other progressive gains of the early 20th century) and we rejected that vision of society, over all those same worries. We rejected the oligarchs' way and decided the American way is one that provides a safety net, and yes, a safety net paid for even by those who don't need it.
Despite what may have been Randsplained to you, the anti-American attitude is the one that says, "Mine, mine, mine -- you can't make me pay for a civil society!" We can. Americans established a government to promote the general weflare, and have the legal and moral authority from the will of the people, to collect taxes to accomplish that goal. Full stop.