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Youth restoration will solve crisis in Social Security

December 09, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

The United States of America appears to be about ready to reform the national Social Security system, and by "reform" I mean "take all the money out of it."

Which is good, because it means that our pensions are going to be taken out of the hands of professional, university-educated money managers and placed under the management of the American people themselves, 80 percent of whom believe Elvis is currently appearing in concerts for space aliens on Neptune.

For amusement purposes, if for nothing else, this makes the move worthwhile, in my book. Because while you and I know we should invest in a diversified portfolio of bonds, large cap stocks and a smattering of small-cap and overseas exposure for sound financial growth, you know there are people out there who will take their financial future and place it on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Under one popular reform option for partially privatized pensions, American workers would be eligible to take up to 2 percent of their pre-tax salary and transfer it directly to Washington County Schools Superintendent Betty Morgan.

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(I may be the only non-school board member in Washington County who believes her raise was justified. For anyone who believes you can make do with a superintendent on the cheap, I have two words for you: Herman Bartlett.)

I visited the Social Security Web site, hoping to provide you with some relevant facts and figures that you could use to make your own, educated decision about the best form of pension management. But sadly I got suckered in by a link on the page titled, I am not kidding, "Social Security Puzzles and Quizzes."

Who knew that learning about the evaporation of your retirement income could be this fun?

For example, Quiz No. 27 states, "In March 1937, Chicago streetcar motorman Ernest Ackerman received the very first Social Security retirement benefit payment. It was a one-time, lump sum payout. How much was it for?"

The correct answer is 17 cents. It was at this point that Ackerman, having just received his lump sum payout, pronounced these five historic words: "This is a joke, right?"

Of course, 17 cents would buy a lot more in those days than it would now. According to the Inflation Calculator (bless Al Gore for inventing the Internet) Web site, 17 cents in 1937 would be worth $2.16 in today's dollars.

Imagine that. You've spent your entire life schlepping entrails-soaked meatpackers to the South Side of Chicago and at the end the government doesn't even hand you enough for a six-pack.

Old Ernie may have the last laugh though, because the latest actuarial tables show that Social Security is scheduled to go completely bankrupt about 36 hours before I retire. I'll be pounding on the door of the federal building yelling "Hey, you in there! Yeah I'm talkin' to you. Where's my $2.16?"

People in and out of government have a lot of ideas about how to "fix" Social Security - or to put it another way, ideas on how to trick us into thinking we're getting our due, when we really aren't. Since cutting Social Security benefits is a political impossibility, brilliant minds are working on all sorts of ingenious solutions, most of which involve finding another word for "cutting." They will wind up calling it "progressive benefit abatement" or something.

Or, in these days when they shamelessly call the biggest logging bill in history a "Forest Preservation Act," they may not even bother. They may just call it the "Six Times As Much Money For Everyone Act," and three weeks later you'll open your Social Security envelope to find it filled with dryer lint.

Obviously there has to be a better way, and obviously it is up to me to find it. Which I have.

Under my plan, the federal government, at 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on July 1, 2006, will declare everyone in the United States to be 10 years younger than they actually are. People will love it. What 44-year-old woman is going to complain that she is suddenly 34 again? A 44-year-old man will be able to put off that mid-life crisis for a full decade. A 54-year-old man will be entitled to another mid-life crisis.

It will be wonderful! Youth will be restored to the aging. People who have felt the years rushing by will suddenly find themselves with plenty of free time to come visit us authors at Turn the Page bookstore from 1-3 p.m. this Saturday. Those who have regrets over how they have spent the past decade will be treated to a do-over.

And meanwhile, the federal government will have 10 years to sock away money it ordinarily would have paid out to new retirees. On retirement, that should guarantee everyone $3.16, at least.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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