Suckin' on the public tit
Nourished by the milk of New Deal compassion
8-Jun-05. I am officially a Geezer. I received my first Social Security check today.
First of all, let me express my sincere appreciation to all the workers of America who wince in pain each time they take note of the FICA deduction from their paychecks, knowing that the future of Social Security is uncertain as far as they personally are concerned, and knowing moreover that their contributions are going to the likes of me.
Amazing as it may be, I still have my original Social Security card stub and the brief pamphlet that came with my card. Both are tucked in the original envelope, filed under "Documents – Personal."
It's instructive to look at that original explanatory pamphlet, printed in sepia on sturdy card stock.
YOUR CARD shows you have an insurance account with the U. S. Government, under the old-age, survivors and disability insurance system provided for in the Social Security Act.
This is quite interesting, for our current president is in the third month of a 60-day campaign (Get it? It ain't a-workin'!) to convince us that Social Security should be thought of as an investment rather than insurance. He muddles our minds with talk of "returns" instead of the safety net that was the original conception of Social Security.
But I digress. The debate about whether Social Security will "be there" for people has been with us for decades. It is not just an ingredient of the current political and economic climate. Thinking back, I can recall the annuity salesmen in the early 1980s insisting I should buy their annuity product because no one could count on Social Security.
As Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower said more than half a century ago:
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.—President Dwight Eisenhower, 1952
The efforts of W notwithstanding, "I like Ike" (to make an allusion). So if you're still working and experiencing angst, relax! Been there, heard that.
For someone like me, there are two questions related to Social Security:
- Should I be drawing Social Security?
- If yes, do I do it at the earliest possible opportunity, or wait for "full retirement" benefits?
Draw Social Security? If I put on my most altruistic, disinterested hat, there's no way someone like me should be drawing Social Security. I'm not rich, but I have been fortunate in life. Compared to the super rich, I'm a pauper, but compared to most "ordinary" people, I'm well-off. I could certainly "make do" without the benefit of Social Security checks. In my most bleeding-heart liberal moments, I would be the first to say that Social Security should be for people like the gardeners who trim my grass and give the palm trees their haircuts.
On the other hand, I'm not a disinterested party: I helped enable the retirements of cohorts before me, and rules are rules. Now's my turn! I've been good to the System, now the System should be good to Me.
It so happens that my Social Security payment will nicely cover my mortgage. Apart from long-term care, that's the biggest expense a person has. This is a no-brainer.
Sooner or later? The issue of when to start drawing is also a no-brainer. It's just mathematics, algebra to be specific. It's simply a variation of that word problem we all had to solve in 9th grade: If one train leaves Los Angeles for Chicago going 75mph, and a second train leaves Chicago for Los Angeles going 50mph, how many hours will it be before they meet?
Do the math. It's a long time before the reduced-benefits and full-benefits Social Security trains meet, and nobody knows how long they will live. "A bird in the hand...."
So here I am, sucking on the public Social Security tit ("teat" if you want to be all hoity-toity). But I refuse to think of myself as some kind of parasite. I'm really a transfer agent, the embodiment of the trickle-down theory of economics. I spend my money, albeit at a measured rate. I intend to "live rich" and "die broke." My idea of a successful old age is to die and run out of money on the same day. I'm not about amassing a fortune, but about living well, which in practical terms means the exchange of goods and services for money.
Hot damn! I'm an economic stimulant. Greenspan should be proud!