Why I Don’t Support Andrew Biggs’ Social Security Proposal

One of the things that makes thinking clearly about Social Security difficult is that the program actually blends together two very different issues: (1) how individuals prepare for old-age and (2) transferring income from those who earn it to those who allegedly need it. The first concerns each individual’s desire for a prosperous life, the second concerns the notion that the individual has an obligation to serve and sacrifice for others.

A thoughtful proposal from American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs tries to separate out these two goals and address them through two different mechanisms. Here’s how his colleague, Jim Pethokoukis, summarizes it:

First . . . each worker would be enrolled automatically in an employer-sponsored retirement account with workers contributing at least 1.5% of pay, matched dollar for dollar by their employers. Second, “Social Security’s government-provided benefits would be transformed into a flat universal benefit to improve social-insurance protections for low-income Americans.”

But I actually think Biggs’ proposal highlights why Social Security is a totally unnecessary, immoral program.

If the goal is for individuals to be able to plan for their own old age, then what they need is not some one-size-fits-all bureaucratic scheme mandating how and how much they save for retirement. What they need is the freedom to earn money and use it as they judge best.

In a free market, there is no shortage of ways to prepare for old age: savings, insurance, mutual aid, and an array of investment opportunities (stocks, bonds, real estate, annuities, a successful business, etc.). The key is that you get to decide which tools are best for you.

But if the goal is different — if it’s to force some people to give handouts to other people — then, no, the free market won’t provide that. Nor should it. Individuals have the right to spend the income they earn on their own hopes and dreams. There is no reason why I should be forced to spend my money, not on a car for my wife, but on two cars for some elderly strangers. (Yes, there is charity, but no one is guaranteed support in a free society.)

So I do not support Biggs’ proposal. But today’s Social Security program gives us the worst of all worlds. The government takes as much money from us as it wants (likely close to a fifth of our income by the end of this decade) and cripples our ability to plan for our old age by using our money to fund handouts to the elderly–rich, poor, and middle class alike.