Governor Rick Perry has said that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and a "monstrous lie." Perhaps this is just political BS and should be ignored by anyone serious about religion and moral values. For one thing, it is unclear to me precisely what he thinks the "lie" is; what is untrue about the idea that future generations will have the same benefits that the law calls for and are provided to senior citizens today?
It is true that the Baby Boom generation, the front edge of which is turning 65 this year, will create a problem because there will be for a period of time a smaller population paying taxes and a larger population getting benefits. That problem has been examined in tens of thousands of pages of careful studies and it can be fixed with a small increase in taxes, an average of less than $200 per year per taxpayer. It will leave the United States still with the lowest taxes of any industrialized country.
The interesting thing is that the right-wing politicians who have made speeches similar to Governor Perry's all say that they do not intend to change any of the benefits for the people (like me) who will become eligible for Social Security in the next decade (or longer, depending on the specific speech). What that means is that they are not proposing to fix the "bubble" described above. They are talking about changes that have to do with the situation decades down the line when the larger Millennial generation will be the taxpayers and the smaller Gen X will be those going onto Social Security. Why use the contemporary problem to argue for changes that will not come into effect until the problem is passed?
One possibility is that this entire effort is fundamentally dishonest. The real purpose of rhetoric against Social Security is to attack a plan that some politicians do not like because of the basic concept itself not because there are any real economic problems associated with it. Another clue that this might be going on is the total lack of any description of an alternative. What does Governor Perry propose to replace Social Security with? A previous Texas governor who became president proposed to modify Social Security by allowing individuals to put money into a type of Individual Retirement Account (IRA) instead of paying taxes into the Social Security program. This was dropped after analysts across the political spectrum agreed that it did not solve any real problems; it did not improve anything. It only gave a relatively small percentage of the population with very high incomes a more lucrative retirement.
Frankly, I agree that individuals with sufficiently high incomes ought to be allowed to put money into an IRA instead of the Social Security fund. And Social Security benefits ought to be paid only to people who have incomes below a reasonable ceiling. But, if you look at the numbers you will see that this is simply a trade-out. It does not change any of the major facts in the situation.
What is the moral meaning of this issue?Is there anything about this item that is not simply politics? I believe so. It seems to me that when politicians like Governor Perry say that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and a lie, they are lying. They are engaged in a propaganda technique that dates back nearly a century called "the big lie." (Look it up in your high school civics textbook.) It is simply this, if you assert something loud enough, often enough and with sufficient conviction, then it will appear to be true even if it is totally lacking in factuality.
In the early 1970s there was an effort to get senior citizens signed up for Social Security and Medicare. I worked in that effort and talked to thousands of seniors, going door to door in inner city neighborhoods. I have seen the kind of poverty and suffering that existed before the Social Security and Medicare programs became as entrenched in American society as they are today. I do not want to go back to that kind of America. I do not know why anyone would want to go back to that kind of America.
I share Governor Perry's biblical worldview which makes him even more morally culpable in my opinion. There is an objective reality which is outside the control of politicians or wishful thinkers or opinionated people of any kind (including myself). If we have no social insurance plan in America, people will suffer. Telling young people that there will be nothing for them, therefore they should vote to close down the program is truly a monstrous lie. It is manipulating them into creating the lack of benefits in the future. Can a politician convince you to shoot yourself in the foot? Is it moral for him to try just so he can get himself elected?