Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Trust Fund Paupers:

I have a rule against writing about Social Security that has nothing to do with my complete lack of expertise in the subject and everything to do with the fact that, at my age and income level (i.e., $0), it's hard to get worked up over the issue.

But this article by Brian Riedl suggests that those of us who are Gen Xers and Gen Yers (is that the right word?) have more reason to worry about Social Security than some of our political leaders would have us to believe. Reidl makes the following analogy to explain how the government uses the program's current surpluses to "invest" in Treasury bonds, which then provide the government with additional funds that are mixed in with all the other tax revenue and spent on current spending programs:

It’s like a family that borrows money from its retirement fund each year to pay for vacations and expensive dinners. When they finally retire, their retirement fund consists of nothing more than paper IOUs.
This strikes me as a very imprudent strategy for raising revenue. My own Episcopal Church, however, would apparently ask only whether it meets the demands of “justice and compassion." Or so, at least, it would appear from the claims set forth by the Episcopal Public Policy Network in its “Faith Reflection on the Federal Budget.” The document, which is also signed by a number of other denominations and religious groups, makes a number of other remarkable claims:

The budget should reflect a commitment to the common good by ensuring that the basic needs of all members of society are met. At this time, when more than 45 million Americans are uninsured, over 8 million are unemployed and over 12 percent live in poverty, additional cuts to critical human needs programs cannot be justified....
The key words here would seem to be “critical” and “needs.” As in programs that really work and do not simply waste money, foster habits of dependency, or attempt to address problems that do not really exist (as appears to be the case with the exaggerated claims about the health insurance "crisis").

Budget decisions must be evaluated not just in the short term, but with respect to their long-term effects on our children’s children, the global community and on all of creation . . .
All of creation? Even the planet Pluto?

Our government should be a tool to correct inequalities, not a means of institutionalizing them. The federal budget should share the burdens of taxation, according to one’s ability to pay, and distribute government resources fairly to create opportunity for all.
Well, who can disagree with that? But the devil is in the details, as the saying goes, which is why I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for legislators to be preached to in such vague, generalized terms, but never given any real specifics.

Perhaps the well-intentioned religious leaders ought to have spent more time reflecting on the example set by Joseph before they assumed the role of government advisor. At least he offered Pharaoh a very practical plan for avoiding what otherwise would have been a devastating famine.

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