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A Short Note on Social Security

Responding to this post, Cafe patron Len writes by e-mail last night:

It seems to me that the government conficated my money for 45 years and now and I am due a return on this. I don’t consider it a free-ride on other people’s money.

I appreciate Len’s sentiment, although I believe that its ethical underpinnings are dubious.  It doesn’t obviously follow that because Sam yesterday stole from Len in order to increase Bob’s current income that Sam should therefore today steal from Suzy in order to increase Len’s current income.  (Note that my correspondent Len himself classifies – I believe correctly – the money taken from him by Uncle Sam in order to pay out current Social Security expenses to others as “confiscated.”)  But I write now not to argue this point.

I write, instead, simply to note that even if Len is 100 percent correct in his ethics – and even if we all, unanimously, agree with him – the point of my earlier essay is unaffected: namely, a system in which everyone lives off of the fruits of everyones’ effort is one that encourages free-riding (as defined here not as a matter of morality but as one of economics).  It is a system in which people have incentives to grab too much from the public pot and to put too little in.  Whether or not the collective entity “Americans” today – or the entity “United States government” today – has an ethical obligation to make good whatever political promises it made to Len regarding its willingness to now forcibly transfer money from other people to him is an entirely different question.