Walter E. Williams

Last week's column, "Is There a Way Out?", generated quite a few responses, some a bit angry. Some people were offended by my reference to Social Security and Medicare as entitlements or handouts. They said that they worked for 45 years and paid into Social Security and Medicare and how dare I refer to the money they now receive as an entitlement. These people have been duped by Congress and shouldn't be held totally accountable for such a belief. Let's examine the plethora of congressional Social Security lies. I'll leave the Medicare lies for another column.

The Social Security pamphlet of 1936 read, "Beginning November 24, 1936, the United States Government will set up a Social Security account for you. ... The checks will come to you as a right" (http://tinyurl.com/maskyul). Therefore, Americans have been led to believe that Social Security is like a retirement account and money placed in it is their property. The fact of the matter belies that belief.

A year after the Social Security Act's passage, it was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, in Helvering v. Davis. The court held that Social Security is not an insurance program, saying, "The proceeds of both employee and employer taxes are to be paid into the Treasury like any other internal revenue generally, and are not earmarked in any way." In a 1960 case, Flemming v. Nestor, the Supreme Court held, "To engraft upon the Social Security system a concept of 'accrued property rights' would deprive it of the flexibility and boldness in adjustment to ever-changing conditions which it demands."

Decades after Americans had been duped into thinking that the money taken from them was theirs, the Social Security Administration belatedly -- and very quietly -- tried to clean up its history of deception. Its website explains, "Entitlement to Social Security benefits is not (a) contractual right." It adds: "There has been a temptation throughout the program's history for some people to suppose that their FICA payroll taxes entitle them to a benefit in a legal, contractual sense. ... Congress clearly had no such limitation in mind when crafting the law" (http://tinyurl.com/49p8fl2). The Social Security Administration failed to mention that it was the SSA itself, along with Congress, that created the lie that "the checks will come to you as a right."


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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