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WEP: Unfortunately I Was Right

WEP is the acronym for the Windfall Elimination Provision of the Social Security Administration.  Here is how they describe it.

Before 1983, people whose primary job wasn’t covered by Social Security had their Social Security benefits calculated as if they were long-term, low-wage workers. They had the advantage of receiving a Social Security benefit representing a higher percentage of their earnings, plus a pension from a job for which they didn’t pay Social Security taxes. Congress passed the Windfall Elimination Provision to remove that advantage.

I just learned about this provision as I was calculating what my income might be for retirement that I hoped to start in about five years.  One part of this income was the SSN benefit from making payments into the system for almost thirty years. My “windfall” is in moving to France and thus having a pension from paying into the French system for another 15 years.  The realization that I might receive only a fraction of what I thought in social security payments left a pit in my stomach. It also brought a flashback from more than twenty years ago to a discussion I had at my favorite bar in San Antonio, TX, the Bombay Bicycle Club.

Will Rogers once characterized San Antonio as one of the four unique cities in the United States.  San Antonio’s uniqueness lies in its rich history, which has brought a parade of cultures into south Texas, cultures which exist there still.  Located in Brackenridge Park, just down the street from the zoo, the Bombay Bicycle Club reflects all that is good and unique about San Antonio and exhibits all the ingredients of a great saloon.  In our modern, alienated society there are very few places where one can meet a stranger and strike up a conversation (except online).  Even less where one can meet a stranger who will become a friend.  A great bar is one of those places.  In my days there a typical happy hour crowd included blue collar workers fresh from the delivery truck, white collar workers (most of them were lawyers), 09’ers (wealthy people who lived within the zip code 78209 which is made up of the fashionable enclaves of Olmos Park and Alamo Heights), a family of tourists who were visiting the park, and in August, members of the Houston Oilers who used train at nearby Trinity University before they left for Tennessee.  The happy customers were Anglo, Hispanic, African-American, German, Croatian, and more.  I used to meet people from every race, religion, and ethnicity at Bombays.  Not only was it possible to meet all of these people, but many of them became my friends.

One of those friends with whom I often had a glass with was George the Phone Man. George got paid by the phone company, how much work he actually did is very questionable. He loved food so much that he reminded me of the old customs inspector in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Scarlet Letter. You might recall that the eponymous letter was found by Hawthorne in the customs house in the first chapter.  This is how Hawthorne described the inspector.

It was marvelous to observe how the ghosts of bygone meals were continually rising up before him; not in anger or retribution, but as if grateful for his former appreciation and seeking to repudiate an endless series of enjoyment, at once shadowy and sensual. A tenderloin of beef, a hindquarter of veal, a sparerib of pork, a particular chicken, or a remarkably praiseworthy turkey, which had perhaps adorned his board in the days of the elder Adams, would be remembered; while all the subsequent experience of our race, and all the events that brightened and darkened his individual career, had gone over him with as little permanent effect as the passing breeze. The chief tragic event of the old man’s life, so far as I could judge, was his mishap with a certain goose which lived and died some twenty or forty years ago; a goose of most promising figure, but which, at table, proved so inveterately tough that the carving knife would make no impression on its carcass, and it could only be divided with an axe and handsaw.

That was George to a tee.  Whenever we met he would describe his latest meals. I love food too, and to find an appreciative audience was apparently a great pleasure for him so we spent at a lot of time together in the bar. He would call me occasionally out of the blue to go in search of a particular serving of ribs or a Reuben sandwich in Austin.

One night at the bar George introduced me to Sam the Hubcap Man. Sam actually had a stand in town where he sold hubcaps. I am not sure where got them, but later if I found one on the side of the road I would bring it to him as a kind of insurance in case I ever lost one. Sam was about 70 years old but had the physical presence of a Clint Eastwood. This ex-marine, ex-biker, and who knows what else, still looked like he could break me in half.  I understood that he had had a run in with the IRS. Thus, he was someone who, though he might have never heard of libertarianism, had lived a life of liberty with antigovernment sentiments.  Somehow we got on the subject of Social Security. I contended I would never get what was promised me (I was in my 30s) be it a straight away cut or more likely an inflation ravaged pittance.  He argued vociferously that the system was as sound as could be. So in spite of his own experience, this septuagenarian had a love of FDR and all his works (e.g;, Social Security) that were typical for a worker of his generation.  In fact, every time I tried to leave (I was a professor at Trinity and I had to teach the next day) Sam would buy me another beer to continue to persuade me that Social Security was sound long into the night.  But I must say, even after all of these years and the negative financial implications, it brings me solace and a smile to know that, I was right, I won’t get what I was promised. My mistake was to anticipate anything at all from the bankrupt Ponzi scheme called Social Security.

By-the-way, I was back in San Antonio a couple of years ago for the first time in over a decade. The Bombay Bicycle Club is still a great bar. If you are ever in San Antonio, stop in and say hello from me and maybe Bill the owner will give you a free beer.