by Christopher Chantrill
January 23, 2005 at 3:15 pm
ALL my life I have wanted a pension, said the retired naval clerk John Dickens to his son Charles in a BBC biopic that ran years ago on PBS. And many Americans agree with him. You put in your 40 years, or 30 yearsor even a mere 20 years for some fortunate policemenand then you get a pension. For life. This is the demand side of Social Security.
Then there is the supply-side, that thinks about retirement like Winston Churchill about his beloved nurse Mrs. Everest: When I think of the fate of poor old women, so many of whom have no one to look after them and nothing to live on at the end of their lives, I am glad to have had a hand in all that structure of pensions and insurance which no other country can rival and which is especially a help to them.
Demand-side or supply-side, the one-size-fits-all approach to superannuation enshrined in Social Security seems oppressive and rigid for a rich and diverse nation such as the United States of America.
Indeed, given the postmodern injunction to celebrate diversity, it seems strange indeed to force everyone to conform to such an arbitrary and inflexible system, to tax everyone 15 percent for their labor for 40 years for the right to receive the same uniform pension. It curbs the wastrel and forces him to save for the future. It prevents the entrepreneur from deploying the full extent of his resources upon his exciting schemes of profitable enterprise. It misleads the timid into imagining that it is possible to drain this uncertain world of risk and contingency. It shortchanges black males, who experience a life expectancy about ten years less than average, and it really hits gay males, who experience a life expectancy about twenty years less than average.
President Bush aims to change all that. He wants to move the United States towards an ownership society and away from dependency, towards a society that he imagines will elect Republicans rather than Democrats. So he is about to propose a system in which young Americans will save for their own retirement with individual accounts that are personal property rather than political promise. By moving from a defined benefit system of national superannuation managed by government experts towards a defined contribution system managed by the American people themselves, Bush is making American superannuation more inclusive, extending it from the narrow vision of the nanny state to include that of the robust and independent householder.
Even with Bushs reform, Social Security remains terminally 1950s, a 40-years-and-a-gold-watch, Organization Man kind of system. But in two years the leading edge of the baby boom will be 62 and eligible to take early retirement on Social Security. How can the Sixties generation be expected to endure a Life With Father retirement system?
All their lives, the Sixties generation has demanded relevance and meaning, and it expects nothing less for its golden years. The one-size-fits-all solution of Social Security is an insult to boomer creativity, and the defined contribution system proposed by President Bush a materialistic option that offends its commitment to live simply (so that others may simply live). Boomers will want to retire with relevance.
But where is the comprehensive national program to enable owners of tasteful homes in yeasty Victorian neighborhoods to mobilize their home equity to help the homeless? Where is the infrastructure to enable the heavy laden argosies of TIAA/CREF participants to donate their excess deck cargo to fund micro lending to oppressed women in Third World countries? We need a Social Security checkoff to help progressives donate their Social Security benefits to boost the Social Security Survivor Benefits of AIDS orphans. And that is just the beginning.
What will happen in twenty years when the boomers start to become old old? For a start, we will need a national system of cooperative meditating centers and hospices to provide dignity to progressives in their last days when they are no longer able to give to their communities. What happened to the radical professor Remy in the movie Barbarian Invasions should never have to happen to any progressive.
But where are the Democrats on this? Where is the outrage at the blandness of it all? Where is Hollywood with Suncityville celebrating creative boomer seniors turning black-and-white retirement blandness into creative color? When will the arts community challenge the status quo with the searing Incontinence Monologues?
Yet the Democrats are dead set against any change to Social Security. How could this be? Could it be that the fire has gone out of the great Sixties generation that gave us sex, drugs, and rock and roll? Could it be that all they really want now is to collect their Social Security checks and their Medicare benefits, just like their fathers? Is it all over?
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of agesthey seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990
In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society
We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.
E. G. West, Education and the State
Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures
The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since
1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and
philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West
Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its
characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then,
once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities
But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie
that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison
I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all.
In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness...
But to make a man act [he must have]
the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove
or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
When we received Christ, Phil added, all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh
The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital