Neither Social Nor Secure

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange is delighted to have survived to receive Social Security. He loves it!

(LANGE) Years ago, tending a mason building a chimney, I straightened up without thinking and whacked my head. It hurt! As I rubbed my scalp and blinked away tears, the old mason held out a brick. “Here,” he said, “take this.”

“What do you want me to do with that?”

“Drop it on your foot. It’ll take your mind off your head.”

The current campaign to convince American voters that the Social Security system is in crisis reminds me of the mason’s solution for headache.

I love Social Security. And why not? Every month the Treasury forwards to my bank account the equivalent of a week-and-a-half’s pay. I don’t figure it’s a gift; I figure it’s mine. After almost six decades of regular contributions to the system, it’s finally coming back in. I pay income tax on it, but it’s still like money you find under the cushions in the living room sofa.

A few years ago, I had to decide whether to sign up at 65 or wait till 70. The law then was, if you earned above a certain amount while receiving benefits, they were reduced. But then Congress passed a law permitting us to work without forfeiting benefits. It made sense. Why discourage taxpayers from earning? So I’m sailing toward 70 with undiminished income, and a nice boost every month, as well. What’s not to like?

Well, how about the White House’s privatization plan? Conceptually, it’s right out of the all-American principle of individual opportunity. Practically, it’s a disaster for the very people for whom Social Security was created.

Makes me nervous to see winners making the rules for losers. How can a Congressman, who enjoys the world’s finest health care program, a government retirement plan and enough income to permit investment, possibly understand the anxiety of people who have none of those luxuries and know they never will?

When Mother and I were married, I took out a life insurance policy – $15 a month. But 15 bucks was more than we had to spare. It was feed the kids, keep the car running, pay the rent and don’t get sick. We couldn’t make or sustain investment decisions in that situation.

There seems no question that some changes are necessary – like raising the salary cap and the age of eligibility. No big deal. The real headaches – the ones the brick of Social Security is being dropped on our toes to help us forget – are the looming insolvency in government health care programs, the fantasy-land tax cuts for the wealthiest of us and our world-record deficit and debt. You want a crisis, try one of those.

As a clergyman said recently on NPR, the proposed changes in Social Security are neither social nor secure. They threaten the people they’re supposed to protect and reward those who make the rules. That’s immoral.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, happy to be able to get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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