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Broader Issues of Social Security Reform

By Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) 2005 by RDFollendoreIII

January 2, 2005

I teach two graduate courses in computer security and cryptography at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. At the beginning of the course I usually begin my class by structuring the organization of students into two distinct groups. I usually do this by asking the students to take a position on a single philosophical question.  The question that I ask is: Should we as security engineers fix a system that isn’t broke or wait until it is broke before we fix it?  I deliberately ask this provocative question because I want the class to work on projects that I give in different competitive ways. My students eventually find that there are functional and economic costs to each of these alternatives which end up driving the nature of their projects. Usually this question precisely splits the class into two equal groups. Of course there is a minority, whom I have come to view as the 'bureaucrat.'  This particular minority group is made of the one or two students who attempt hold fast to, and manage the middle ground; to bridge these two very different potential alternatives in the face of competing philosophical factions.  I have found that these individuals become particularly driven by their chosen philosophy because they end up in a relentless circle of problem analysis without resolution.

With this in the back of our mind, we should now turn to the broader issues of Social Security reform, which is the actual subject of this article. There are many problems with Social Security program, the first of which is that in the final analysis it is simply a tax.  The typical American citizen does not trust Social Security because they do not trust the Federal Government to manage their ‘specific’ social welfare. In their minds, Social Security represents the failing point where ‘old people’ are socialized by Government welfare programs and this is considered a weakness. This attitude is being propagated by the media.

Economists like Ben Stein seem to be increasingly proclaiming on television the essential idea that those who have not saved $200,000 for their retirement are losers. The problem is that these rich economists assume that daily lives in the world in which live works on academic economic principles. The fact is that people do not operate on economic principles; they operate on the principles of what is called 'human utility theory'.  People keep investing because they have previously invested, not because of the economics of saving. What this also means is that people do not constantly think about value in terms of personal gain. Human beings are not only generous, and live beyond their means; they also will lie, cheat and steal in order to get the chance to be generous to others because it makes them feel good and important. For the wealthy who no longer need more of anything, it is their ability to invest that makes them feel that they are better than other 'normal' people.  

The same thing is true for executives of corporations who have access to far more money than they have the vision to know what to do with.  In order to artificially boost stock value, the executives of big corporations often take laying-off loyal older employees with great work ethic and who have decades of highly productive. Once this occurs to the employee, the seniority system in companies where they then go often sets up these same employees to be the first to be repeatedly laid off.  Once laid off, these individuals have no other option than to go into debt.  In months, they will have lost their retirement 'nest egg' like the equity in their home. They will have lost all of their medical benefits. They are considered as wounded by circumstance and they have become the older skilled set who are the expendable, both employed unemployable. There are millions of Americans who have seen this happen to them, and there are millions of such reasons why good and hard working people will be forced to depend on Social Security. We don't hear about the inequitable statistics that are not counted because when people have good jobs and are saving again, the social system is not considered broken for them. Job security in senior life is like a silhouette, a shadow issue that is best forgotten.        

The centralized transfer and long term management of tax money by the Federal Government is always an expensive proposition to citizens. As the program currently exists, Social Security is widely recognized as a pool of money which politicians have access to for all kinds of ‘wonderful reasons’ other than the ‘original wonderful reason’ for which it was created. People in the Baby Boom generation do not feel that they can depend on Social Security.  Depending on your perspective, these may be problems of perception, or they may be tangible problems that must be addressed now.  What I am saying is that there is a larger social problem here that is not being considered.

While one may not believe much of what our President George W. Bush says when he opens his mouth, it stands to reason that there must be an awful lot of room within the original concept of Social Security for reform and change and to do that we must move past the divisive philosophy that ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’. But if we do choose to overhaul Social Security we have to be very careful as we attend to the issues that have brought the problem to our attention.




Copyright (c) 2001-2007 RDFollendoreIII All Rights Reserved