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Reform Social Security … or Repeal It?


WITH THE presidential campaign season here, the quadrennial debate over Social Security has begun. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush is calling for Social Security reform. He says that people should have the right to have their Social Security funds invested in the stock market. Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore says that Bush’s plan would jeopardize Social Security, implying that old people might be left out in the streets to starve to death.

In all the political demagoguery, the debate once again fails to address a fundamental question: Why not simply repeal Social Security?

Let’s first keep in mind that there is no Social Security “fund” in which people’s money has been deposited and is earning interest. Social Security has always been a classic tax-and-welfare scheme. The government taxes the young and the productive and transfers the money to the elderly.

Everyone agrees that as each decade goes by, the system becomes increasingly unstable because the number of recipients increases while the base of taxpayers continues to shrink.

But financial instability is not the reason that Americans should be considering the repeal of Social Security. The principal reason for repeal lies with the fundamental immorality of Social Security — indeed the immorality of the entire socialistic welfare state under which Americans now live.

Ever since we were children, we have been taught that Social Security reflects that Americans are a kind, benevolent, compassionate people. Of course, the question no one ever asks is, If Americans are so caring and compassionate, why must they be forced by the state to provide for others?

And make no mistake about it: Social Security, like all tax-and-welfare schemes, is founded on the force of government. For example, suppose a 30-year-old man writes the following note to the Internal Revenue Service: “I am not enclosing my Social Security taxes this year because I have decided to provide for my own retirement. I hereby waive all rights to Social Security forever.” The IRS, with the assistance of U.S. marshals and federal judges, will fine him, seize his assets, and in the extreme case, put him into jail. That is what is called “force.”

Where is the morality — the compassion — the benevolence in this process? Am I a better person be-cause the government has forcibly taken my money and given it to an elderly person? To be moral, doesn’t conduct have to come from the willing heart of an individual?

If I decide to honor my mother and father by providing for them in their old age with my own money, my conduct could be considered moral. But isn’t that totally different from being forced to do so by government officials? What business does Caesar have forcing me to be a good Christian?

“We paid it in and we have a right to get it back,” Social Security recipients tell us. But every one of them knows that every generation has the right to implement its own political and economic system. No generation can bind a future generation into supporting its political and economic ideology.

Americans who implemented Social Security in the 1930s abandoned more than 100 years of life in which Americans rejected socialistic schemes such as Social Security and income taxation. Every generation since then has known that one of these days, new generations might come along who might wish to recapture the original spirit of voluntary action that characterized our ancestors.

What would happen if Social Security were repealed? Many retired people would get along fine because they don’t need the money. Others would go back to work, which is not necessarily a bad thing, even for people in their 60s and 70s.

What about the truly needy? Would there be old people starving in the streets? Nonsense! This is what family values are all about. And if families won’t care for their elderly, then there are neighborhood groups, churches, civic organizations, and charitable organizations.

Can we be certain that such people and organizations will surface? Of course not. The outcome of individual freedom can never be certain. But if Americans are as selfish and uncaring as some people would portray them, how is it possible that they happen to elect saints to public office who pass tax-and-welfare schemes such as Social Security? In other words, as misguided as it is, the very existence of Social Security reflects that there are lots of Americans who do care about others.

For the first 150 years of American history, the American people rejected Social Security, national health care, income taxation, and other aspects of the socialistic welfare state, believing that individuals should be free to make their own choices in life and having faith that most people care about others. Twentieth-century Americans chose an opposite course, one that traded freedom for the illusion of government security.

Hasn’t the time come to debate who was right — and which direction the United States should now head?

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.