Friday, February 04, 2005

"I knew a woman, lovely in her bones...."

Bringing the Social Security debate down to particulars.

My best lay understanding of this plan as of now (numbers make my English major brain hurt), is that workers invest in private accounts, either with or without government oversight, and then apparently they turn it over to the government upon retirement to create an annuity, which the government then pays out to them.

Now, what if dear old wage earner dies young, with young children at home as "survivors" (as happened to my wife, when her father died when she was 12 months old, the youngest of four children)? Not much annuity built up there, unless he was a genius investor and stayed away from Enron and Worldcom, and such. Even then.... where do the survivor benefits come from in that case? Enough to put my wife through college (state college, granted, so low tuition, but still), when she's the last of four?

I guess this is what they mean by "cutting benefits," huh? Of course, with her college education, she's more than repaid the money given to her. But since it was never her money in the first place (her bad luck being born a minor, I guess), then she never deserved it, huh?

Is this what we mean by "ownership society"? Those who can own things, should. And those who can't, because they are too poor, too young, or simply incapable (her father's brother was mentally incapable of caring for himself, and while the sweetest man I ever knew, needed care most of his life, and relied on government disability to pay the bills), are just not going to be owners? Is that what "ownership society" means?

Because once you get it out of the abstractions and the statistics, this is what you are talking about. People may be living longer today, but as even the SS Administration has pointed out, that doesn't mean life expectancy has dramatically risen. Some of us still die young: too young to build up a "nest egg," too young to leave an annuity sufficient to take care of our family. What do we do for them, if we radically change Social Security?

Isn't there an old adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"?

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