While Mr. Peterson and his hired expert David Walker may possibly be heartless, their underlying point is not without merit. Social Security was indeed a dramatic improvement for those Americans who faced penury or “incarceration” in poor houses or poor farms that dotted the landscape prior to 1935, some still in existence into the 1960′s. The social safety net was offered to the entire population, regardless of need, because that was what it took to pass the legislation through a reluctant Congress. In 1935, when the program came into existence, there were 16 working adults for every SS recipient. Soon, that ratio will slip below 3:1. In a pay-as-you-go system, that’s a math problem not a social one.
Like many other lucky Americans, my career success and investment decisions make a Social Security check simply a small bit of icing on my retirement income. I’m soon to be 67 and haven’t yet applied for SS as it currently grows at 8% per year until I take it at 70. Perhaps we should reconsider that expensive perk in light of interest rates currently at 2%. That said, I would be amenable to reducing my eventual SS check by 5%-10% of the dollars promised if it were part of plan to tweak the system into solvency and allow those less lucky and who need 100% of the dollars promised in order to live out their lives with modest dignity.
There are several ways to insure the solvency of the SS system into the foreseeable future and very few of the serious proposals would mean loss of benefits for those who most need them. Means testing, as hinted above, is one but there are a number of others. None of these suggested adjustments present citizens with a bogus “all or nothing” choice, regardless of their financial means.
The organization called Save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid makes the ludicrous argument that people who feel as I do should voluntarily not apply for SS benefits, as if that would do the trick. The rule changes need to be broadly yet fairly applied and mandatory. Personally, should I be asked to forgo a modest amount of my promised SS benefits to keep the system solvent, I will consider it a patriotic sacrifice by one who has benefited handsomely from the American free-market economy. I hope that many others in my circumstance will feel the same, maybe even Pete Peterson.