Friday, February 24, 2017

When The Political Becomes Personal

     Normally, my political op-eds have nothing to do with my personal life. This one will be different.

     Brace yourselves.

     When Franklin D. Roosevelt succeeded in getting the Social Security system written into law, there was considerable consternation among persons of a conservative bent. The program was unprecedented in every respect. It taxed working people without reference to any present-time need for the money. It taxed employers as well, for daring to be employers. And of course, the nature of the ultimate benefit to be provided was both dubious – the average lifespan of an American worker was 65 – and nebulous – there were no statutory specifications for the payments to be made.

     Yet FDR was proud of his accomplishment, for political reasons. By instituting a tax predicated on the provision of the benefit, he’d achieved something no previous politician had equaled: he’d created a system whose beneficiaries, having compulsorily paid into it for the whole of their working lives, would never agree to the repeal of the system. He boasted about exactly that.

     The same is the case for Lyndon’ Johnson’s signature “Great Society” atrocity, Medicare. With 1.25% of Americans’ paychecks going to Medicare lifelong, the pressure to keep the system running (and therefore taxing) is incredibly strong. Never mind that every dollar taxed for either system is immediately borrowed and spent by the federal government. Never mind that the SocSec benefit is still statutorily undefined, or that in the face of ever-rising costs and ever-shrinking Medicare reimbursements more and more medical practitioners are “opting out” of the system. Both programs appear to be invulnerable to political antagonism despite their faults.

     And now, owing to the advent of my sixty-fifth birthday, I’m a prisoner of both.

     I’m not wealthy. I have substantial savings, but without SocSec disbursements those savings wouldn’t last very long, at least here in New York. Moreover, I have several chronic medical conditions that require frequent doctor’s visits and considerable pharmaceutical remediation. So like it or not, I’ve found myself compelled to accept the “benefits” of two federal programs I’ve opposed ever since I first learned about them.

     I’ve agonized over it. Could I refuse my SocSec payments? Yes, if I were to relocate off Long Island (to which my wife is bitterly opposed). Could I decline to get involved with Medicare? No, for firms that write medical insurance policies won’t permit it. Yet I still oppose both programs politically. Promises or no, they’re founded on an evil premise and should be repealed.

     But President Donald Trump, whom I’ve come to like and approve very much, has pledged himself to the continuation and sustenance of those programs. Glory be to God! If anyone should understand their perniciousness, Trump would be he. But keeping faith with “the deal” strikes him as more important.

     So how does one argue against those programs while accepting the benefits from them? With considerable difficulty. Leftist supporters of those programs play the argumentum ad hominem card almost before the first sentence has left my lips. “Would you be willing to forfeit those benefits if you could see them abolished?” they ask. I reply “Yes, I would.” And of course their rejoinder is “Suuuuuurrrre you would,” with the appropriate eye-rolling and dismissive smirk.

     There isn’t much that will offend me to the point of violence, but the denigration of my integrity will do it every time.

     “The personal is political,” say the Leftists. They’d surely like it to be so. By forcing the snout of government into ever more areas of human life, they’ve edged rather close to that goal. As America has “grayed,” the pressure on the federal and state governments to “keep their promises,” even to expand upon their benefits, has risen in tandem. There’s even talk of creating a program to guarantee Americans’ retirement. Social Security and Medicare have returned to “political third rails,” which no one dares to touch.

     It’s no use denying the realities. These programs are just about guaranteed to outlive me, and possibly you as well, Gentle Reader. The reluctance of even the most conservative legislators to discuss changes to them is enormous. I can envision a path to dismantling them:

     “Jerry sent his Social Security phase-out plan over yesterday,” [Sumner] said. “I like the approach he took. The payroll tax ends at once. Mandatory buy-outs for everyone under forty-five, voluntary but enhanced buy-outs for anyone over forty-five except for those already collecting, all buy-outs to be paid out over the next five years. We can afford it now that the budget is in surplus. But it’s a big step to take in the middle of a re-election campaign.”
     [Adrienne Sumner] smirked. “The third rail of American politics.”
     “Roosevelt designed it to be that way. There’s no way to undo it without pissing off a lot of people. Even Jerry’s approach, which ought to satisfy anyone’s just claim against the system, will draw a lot of fire. The senior citizens’ groups are bound to moan about ‘retiree income security,’ as if they had it now.”

     ...but few real-life politicians have the courage or moral fortitude of Stephen Graham Sumner.



Anonymous said...

The idea that one is forced, ultimately at the point of a gun, to 'contribute' to SocSec boils my blood. The temperature gets higher when I hear some head-up-their-ass pol call it an 'entitlement'. Maybe it is for those who never paid into it but that is about it. I've always worked off the assumption that I would get zero (or effectively so) from SocSec despite the large amounts of $ stolen from me.

If a person did this to me on the street it would be called robbery. Since the gov is doing it the term becomes 'taxes'.

Linda Fox said...

I'm in the same place. I'll be 66 next month, and will be collecting the wife's portion of the benefit from then on, until, at 70, I collect what I've earned.

That quirk that allows me to do both is phasing out. I'm one of the last group that can benefit from it. I've justified it to myself, because of the fact that I also fall under WEP (Windfall Elimination Profit) provisions. I've both contributed to SS and to teachers' pensions, and - for reasons both complicated and disheartening - I will be losing an amount of SS equal to 1/2 of my OH teachers' pension for all time.

Have to take Medicare, or I won't qualify for any health insurance (alas, the same as you). This year, while I'm still employed, I'm working to get my aging body in better shape (losing weight, getting little things taken care of - I'll be having surgery on March 13 on my arthritic toe). With luck, I can, at least, minimize my medical expenses for some time.

neal said...

I refuse it all. I am disabled from years of hard work, and an old broke down veteran.

I will not ask others yet born to support me.

I do not serve Mammon. That is the corruption of buying time. I would rather wrestle with those that exist apart.

My bones will jump. I think sometimes when what is called the Church stacked that up underground there was some understanding.

jabrwok said...

I'd be satisfied with opting out and keeping the money that's currently being taken from my paycheck. I won't be offered that option of course.

A buy-out would be nice, but who's going to pay for it? And you're right about too many people feeling (not "thinking", alas) that they're entitled to "their" money (if it's theirs, then why do they need *mine* to be taxed away from me?).

Pascal said...

There's an eye-witness account in this post

In it you will find yet another reason to detest the Left and its tactics.

But even worse, you may feel disgusted at the milquetoast effort of those who knew better and did nothing to counter those tactics with relatively easy countering tactics. And the reason? Hard to conclude what motivation there was, but you've hinted at it here. Those who knew better didn't want to give up what they felt they were due.

Baby Huey said...

I've wrestled with this as well. Although not yet old enough for either to apply, my family and myself do qualify for Medicaid these days (4 kids, 1 income, under 40k). We've discussed it, and have reluctantly decided to use the Medicaid program for now, although my justification may be too thin; I'm paying enough to the State in one form of tax or another that I want to see some return on what is taken from me and mine.