Tuesday, March 08, 2005
JOSH MARSHALL GETS IT Put that man in front of the cameras (or at least get him into the op-Ed pages):
The idea behind private accounts is that people should rely on themselves alone and bear the consequences of their successes and their failures and random chance on their own shoulders. If things don't pan out for you in retirement, that's something to take up with your children.
The concept behind Social Security is fundamentally different. The first premise is that if you put in a lifetime's work there is simply a level of destitution below which society will not let you fall.
Maybe you made so little during your working years that there wasn't enough to save. Or maybe you just didn't plan ahead well enough. Or maybe you suffered some misfortune. Whatever. If you worked you won't be destitute when you retire.
People who made big bucks through their lives don't get a particularly good 'deal' from Social Security, if you insist on seeing it in investment terms. But that's a distorting prism, sort of like thinking you got a rotten deal on your medical insurance if you never have a catastrophic illness.
I like to think of this as the moral equality of work. In our society, we allow the market to assign all manner of different cash values to different sorts of work or even the same sorts of work under different circumstances...
But the cash value of work isn't the same as its moral value. And if you look at the values imbedded in all those Social Security actuarial tables, you see this principle: whether you were a janitor or a fast-food worker or a doctor or a tycoon, if you worked during your working years you shouldn't be left destitute when your working years are over (retirement) or when, through no fault of your own, you can't work anymore (disability).
No matter what. The common denominator is a life of work--skilled or unskilled, impressive or unimpressive, remembered or forgotten. It doesn't matter.