WFB on Social Security
William F. Buckley's column in the latest National Review Digital discusses the corrosive effect of social security and Keynesian economics has had on American society and politics. He explains first that the phrase he uses, "I lost it at the Astor" referred to be seduced after getting drunk at a bar and losing one's virginity. He notes that Americans lost theirs economically when they bought into the idea that we could spend ourselves out of the depression,
John Maynard Keynes as the great seducer — so that one can ruminate, with appropriate melancholy, on the theme of, “I lost it with Keynes.” What was lost was the innate sense . . . that deficit spending was wrong. Why? Because it was simply wrong — not moral — to spend money you hadn’t set aside.. . .As Jefferson noted, such spending is a burden on following generations. And if spending moeny you don't have is the sin, Social Security is absolute libertinism.
[W]hat crept into the act, with the acceptance of deficit spending, was an attitude of detachment toward the old principle that you should not spend what you do not have. And this detachment is degenerate, as witness popular political attitudes on the matter of Social Security.
But libertines don't take kindly to being reminded of moral values. So when Bush tries to propose reform, he can't say that the whole scheme is wrong because it pays people more than they put in plus interest or that it does this for people who don't need it. It would be the the Third Rail of politics. That doesn't affect him, because he's not running for anything else after this, but it scares pols who covet their offices white, even if he's only pointing out that the options at the final point where the funds fall short will be very limited.
What Mr. Bush might have said, summoning the moral authority of lost norms, was that Social Security payments correctly do two things. The first is to repay the American 65-year-old the money taken from him during his working life, plus interest. The second, to provide insurance against such emergencies as bring on destitution.Maybe by the time the wheels come off, the politicians won't have to depend on the Boomers to get elected and will find the courage to say what they don't dare today, that Social Security is a form of pyramid scheme, but they also may find out how vicious old people can be once they become tax eaters.
Before losing it at the Astor, an American listening to this explanation would have found it entirely reasonable. But in the effusive economic pattern of welfare-state thinking, he has come to accept Social Security as a kind of bonanza. There is no movement by any organized body of Americans that is prepared to say: Just give us back what you borrowed from us and we’ll call it quits. You can’t successfully appeal to Americans to reason in that way. If the accounting goes forward as it now threatens to do, Social Security will give the retired American who lives to age 80 two or three times what he invested in the Social Security program.