Letters on Social Security

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Letters on Social Security

by Ari Armstrong, January 19, 2005

Today I wrote letters to four commentators concerning their views about Social Security. Three of the articles to which I reply are published by Townhall, and, predictably, they all endorse mandatory, regulated accounts. A fourth essay is by Alex Epstein, a fellow associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. Epstein's article (published at ARI's web page as well) is excellent, and it endorses free markets.

I'll begin with the good news. Among Epstein's forceful arguments is his case that Social Security deprives people of their liberty. He writes, "If Social Security did not exist -- if the individual were free to use that 12% of his income as he chose -- his ability to better his future would be incomparably greater. He could save for his retirement with a diversified, long-term, productive investment in stocks or bonds. Or he could reasonably choose not to devote all 12% to retirement. He might choose to work far past the age of 65. He might choose to live more comfortably when he is young and more modestly in old age. He might choose to invest in his own productivity through additional education or starting a business. How much, when, and in what form one should provide for retirement is highly individual and is properly left to the individual's free judgment and action. Social Security deprives the young of this freedom, and thus makes them less able to plan for the future, less able to provide for their retirements, less able to buy homes, less able to enjoy their most vital years, less able to invest in themselves."

And Epstein exposes the core injustice of the Social Security program: "Observe that Social Security's wholesale harm to those who would use their income responsibly is justified in the name of those who would not. The rational and responsible are shackled and throttled for the sake of the irrational and irresponsible."

I see not a single point to criticize in Epstein's piece, and I hope it is widely read. Following is my letter of thanks:

Dear Mr. Epstein,

I wanted to sincerely thank you for your recent article about Social Security. It was excellent.

It was especially poignant for me today, as I just called my tax lady and found out my wife and I will be sending every extra dollar we earn to the feds through April, in addition to clearing out every cent of our bank account, mostly for Social Security. Because of this, we are stuck in a tiny condo longer, and we'll put off having kids longer. It's a very frustrating experience. But reading articles such as yours gives one a bit of hope.

Thanks, -Ari Armstrong

The other articles are by Thomas Sowell, George Will, and Larry Elder. The essays are worth reading, but they share an important error. Following are my replies. With each letter I included a link to the collected commentary about Social Security published by the Colorado Freedom Report.

Dear Mr. Sowell,

I am a huge fan of your work. Thus, I am perplexed by your position on Social Security, which runs counter to free markets.

You rightly attack the unserious arguments of the left, and you encourage us to "start talking sense like adults." Unfortunately, in your very next line, you commit the logical fallacy of false alternatives.

Here are two alternatives you do not describe in your article. First, as I propose, Social Security could be phased out by steadily raising the pay-out age. Second, the Republican plan could be implemented, with the exception that workers could be allowed to keep the residual money, rather than be forced to put it into accounts. (The accounts, by the way, are significantly controlled by the national government.)

Thanks, Ari Armstrong

* * *

Dear Mr. Will,

Though your recent article about Social Security generally is excellent, you make a profound error.

You claim that the "philosophy of freedom" justifies the transition to "[v]oluntary personal accounts." However, the Republican plan hardly allows for strictly voluntary accounts. The accounts are instead mandated by the national government (it's either the accounts or Social Security), and the accounts are significantly controlled by the national government.

The philosophy of freedom suggests that people simply be allowed to keep whatever percent of their income the Republicans want to direct to mandatory, regulated accounts. Apparently, the Republicans are interested mostly in paying lip service to the philosophy of freedom.

Thanks, -Ari Armstrong

* * *

Dear Mr. Elder,

Thank you for pointing out the left doesn't trust citizens with their own money.

However, the Republican plan is little better, as it amounts to a system of forced savings significantly controlled by the national government. Whatever percent of income Republicans want to direct to mandatory, regulated accounts, could simply be left to workers to do with whatever they want. But the Republicans, like the Democrats, don't trust citizens with their own money.

Thanks, -Ari Armstrong

For additional analysis, please see Social Security: Collected links.

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