Social Security brochure creates fear, loathing in mailboxes across America
Today’s mail brought my annual report from the Lord High Chamberlain of the Exchequer informing me that unless I get hyperbusy and super lucky, too, and start making gobs of money so the government can tax those gobs and dump loads of loot into my Social Security account, my later years, so-called, will be mean ones, as in Not Fun.
True, the scribes toiling for SS (how Nazi-esque is that abbreviation) are quick to point out that no reasonable human can hope to survive on SS payments alone, that such payments are merely intended to supplement the vast sums they seem to assume we have tucked away in other income-producing niches impervious to downturns in interest rates, stock markets, housing markets and all other known markets currently falling like lead weights dropped from leaning towers everywhere.
Indeed, the verbiage attached to the SS notice trumpeting the diminutive stipend awaiting me when I crest 66, puts me in mind of the surreal fiction of Calvino and Ionesco and Pinter, their ironic humor barely softening the horror of being eaten alive by the bureaucratic mouths of our overlords. For instance, here is a badly written but highly revealing passage of SS doggerel. “If you retire early, you may not have enough income to enjoy the years ahead of you. Likewise, if you retire late, you’ll have a larger income, but fewer years to enjoy it. Everyone needs to try to find the right balance, based on his or her own circumstances.”
Try. Did you hear them? Try to find the right balance. Let me see. I know I left the right balance around here somewhere. Darn. Where did I put it? I so want to enjoy it, and by “it,” I think the SS copywriter means the larger income, but (likewise) he may mean the years ahead, while I mean the right balance. Based on my circumstances. And just what are my circumstances? Well, I’m not sure. They keep changing.
Hey, maybe I could get a high-paying job writing SS brochures, a job with comprehensive government-subsidized health care and automatic contributions to my SS account. Here’s a sample of what I could write for them. “Life isn’t fair, you pathetic pauper. Likewise, you’d better figure out how to beat this crooked system or you’re gonna end up in deep doo-doo.” Catchy, no?
When I was in my teens and 20s, I knew several elderly people living adequately on no other income but the money they received from the Social Security Administration. True, those were the days when a visit to the doctor might cost you $15, and drugs, the few we had, were cheap; food was inexpensive; rent was low; and gasoline was 25 cents a gallon. Five percent was about as low as interest rates on a regular savings account ever went, so if you banked some of your money, you could earn a little extra; kids were encouraged to save, to learn about saving; property taxes were reasonably high to pay for things like schools and police and fire departments; and health insurance, for those who bothered to buy it, was inexpensive. That’s how things were. Honestly.
My point is that most of us so-called baby boomers grew up thinking that money saved became more money to be used later on when we needed it. The money. And that’s how we imagined Social Security operated, too. Money we put into the system would mature over the years for our eventual use. Yet here on the front page of the SS doggerel sheet accompanying the proclamation of the teensy monthly sum the government proposes to send me when I retire is the following vague and scary and infuriating statement.
“In 2016 we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without changes, by 2037 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted and there will be enough money to pay only about 76 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits. We need to resolve these issues soon to make sure Social Security continues to provide a foundation of protection for future generations.”
I’m not making this crap up. Somebody, possibly a college graduate, was paid good swiftly deflating money to write that vague and scary crap, and it was sent to every sucker in America with a Social Security number. And who exactly is the “we” who needs to resolve these issues? And what are those issues? Let’s see, I may have a list of them, the issues that need resolving, wherever I misplaced my right balance based on my ever-changing circumstances.
Could SS be implying that you and I have wasted trillions of dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that you and I have spent several other trillions bailing out banks that won’t pay even 1 percent interest on my savings, let alone 7 percent? Are they suggesting that you and I have given untold trillions in subsidies to big Earth-gobbling corporations? I think they are. I think they are implying that we, you and I, are the cause of all those unresolved issues they neglected to be more specific about. And that’s why my puny little stipend is in danger of declining and disappearing before I even get any of it. The stipend.
Also because I can’t find the right balance.