Social Security and Medicare: Twin Disasters Loved by All Age Groups

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One of the political facts of life which most Americans do not want to consider is this: young people are in favor of Social Security. This has always been the case.

Politics are settled at the margin. There’s no doubt that older people, at the margin, are a very large swing vote. But they have never had anything like the majority. This was especially true in 1935, when the New Deal voted to set up the Social Security system. The nation was a young nation at that point, because the birth rate had been high almost from the beginning of the nation.

The appeal of Social Security was this: the state would guarantee retirement. The state was going to substitute its power to collect taxes from workers, and it would use this power to guarantee everybody a free lunch. Only the free lunch would start at the age of 65.

Overwhelmingly, the public got on board. Overwhelmingly, the public is still on board. The Social Security system has always been a promotion directly aimed at existing workers. This is because existing workers are the overwhelming majority of the voters in this society.

A lot of people blame the old folks for having acted as a political special-interest group to make certain that it gets its money. But understand this: this special-interest group, like all special-interest groups, never had the ability on its own to get this legislation passed. Furthermore, this special-interest group does not have the votes in order to sustain this continuing drain on the Treasury without the help of the overwhelming majority of people who are paying into the program.

For some reason, because the special-interest group now acts as a special-interest group, conservative critics forget the obvious, which is that this special-interest group was created by the original legislation, and that legislation was voted for by workers who were still in the labor force. The Social Security system, like the Medicare system, is beloved of younger workers, because they think they’re going to get a free lunch from the government when they’re older, and this enables them to spend less money now for their retirement years. They love it. They figure somebody else is going to pay for their retirement, and they think they’re going to dig deep into somebody else’s wallet.

This is a Ponzi scheme. But Ponzi schemes are incredibly popular with people. This is why they grow so fast. Think of Bernie Madoff. People loved to get in. They begged to get in. Madoff realized early that it was this insatiable desire for outsiders to get in that was his sustaining factor. Without this, the thing would have blown up much earlier.

People believe in something for nothing. They believe the state is a healing institution. They do not want to save for their own retirement. They do not want to become responsible for themselves. If possible, they want to make certain that their parents are supported by the state permanently. They don’t want that obligation now. They are convinced that whatever they pay into the Social Security system and the Medicare system is minimal compared with what it would probably cost them personally to save for their retirement and also to pay for their parents’ retirement. They love both programs.

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