Thursday, November 12, 2009

On Pandering, Part Three, Social Security

I once wrote to my Congressman expressing concern about the health of the social security system. I received a letter back promising that my benefits won't be cut. This missed the whole point of my letter, which was to point out that changes needed to be made if the system was to remain viable.

This illustrates several problems. One is that members of Congress are so used to people contacting them with personal concerns, that they react by rote as if all communications were in this category. It also illustrates that Congressmen have become little more than errand boys, doing favors for constituents and looking into problems constituents are having with government agencies. There is little time to actually legislate.

Perhaps no issue is more prone to pandering than social security. Nobody wants their benefits cut, and nobody wants to pay more taxes. But how else to keep the system healthy? In "Our Culture of Pandering", Paul Simon says that when President Clinton held two forums on social security, he said "only" two things were not on the table: increased taxes, and decreased benefits. Huh??

True leadership is needed on this important issue, someone who is willing to tell people things they don't want to hear, but that they *need* to hear. Simon says that when Harry Truman proposed the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after WW2, only 14% of American people supported the idea. Had Truman followed public opinion instead of being the leader that he was, we would never have had a Marshall Plan.

A sensible plan for social security would be to tax *all* of a person's income, instead of only the first so many dollars. This would correct the regressiveness of the tax system caused by the social security tax hitting lower income people the hardest. Other ideas readily present themselves, when we become willing to look at the issue in an honest, non-partisan way. All we need are leaders who are willing to do this.

No comments: