Bill Murchison
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And on the Seventh Day, God created Social Security. That must have been the way of it -- contrary accounts (including that in Genesis) notwithstanding. A program designed for the partial relief of temporary economic distress currently stands at the center of everything. All roads lead to the Social Security system. In Social Security We Trust. Not to mention the latest piece of Washington wisdom: The Bush tax cuts threaten Social Security. Our Social Security-addicted political system requires intervention of a kind that simply isn't in sight. Economists understand that the Bush tax cut no more threatens Social Security than Byron Nelson threatens Tiger Woods. Not a penny of the $153 billion surplus (according to the Congressional Budget Office's latest estimate), were it left intact and unmolested, would fund future Social Security payments. The money would be used to reduce the federal deficit. That's because the Social Security "trust fund" is a bigger myth than the invulnerability of the dot-coms. There ain't no such "fund." The money for future Social Security checks will come from future Social Security taxes. Why worry then about that $9 billion the CBO says the new budget will subtract "from Social Security"? Because of prior Republican and Democratic agreement not to touch a fund that doesn't exist. Why such agreement? Because Social Security -- in political terms -- is Holy and Sacred and everything else you can think of. There we go -- "in political terms." Politics -- a matter of counting votes and seeing who comes out ahead -- stands in the way of reasonable conversation about ways to provide for the future. Obstacles of this sort make born heretics want to stick out their tongues. Here comes one of those tongues. Sorry. 1. Compulsory taxation to smooth out hard times wasn't a nice idea in 1935, when Social Security was enacted, and is no nicer now. Sweetly, through Social Security, the federal government says to us all: "You boobs, we know you can't look after yourselves; give us that money so we can do the job," which is the kind of declaration Mr. Jefferson never contemplated the national government's making to supposedly free-born citizens. Wiser Supreme Courts than the intimidated New Deal court that upheld Social Security (Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, Helvering v. Davis) would have smacked it down as unconstitutional. 2. The habit of state coercion, once formed, is hard to break. Why shouldn't individual prisoners -- er, clients -- of the system enjoy the right to invest part of their tax money in private accounts, as has been widely and convincingly proposed? Because the government can't allow choice in these matters. That way lies freedom. 3. The habit of coercion slops over into other departments of life. Surpluses, on an assumption popular in Washington, D. C., belong to the U.S. government and not to the taxpayers whose taxes created them. Rightly -- not to say bravely -- President Bush proposed the return of a goodly share of the surplus to said taxpayers. You might have supposed, from the reaction of various editorialists and officeholders, that he had called for flying the Confederate battle flag over the Capitol. The tax cut was duly enacted -- with tangential Democratic support -- but now the simple act of handing back unneeded taxpayer money has become an occasion for sneering: See, we told you this would undermine Social Security. Which, of course, it won't, but that's politics. Shows you what happens when the art of daily living, and of furthering that art through prudent planning, becomes entangled in the calculations of vote-seekers. Something like the coming Social Security debacle happens. There's no easy way out at this stage. But better and better, sweeter and sweeter, the whole idea of private accounts is sounding.
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Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
 
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