by Rod D. Martin
November 21, 1997
Alan Greenspan’s announcement Thursday that Social Security is in trouble told us nothing most Americans didn’t already know, but did underscore one of the most vital facts of our day: Social Security is the greatest pyramid scam of all time, and it’s time to quit stealing from the old.
Greenspan didn’t say that. But he should have.
Social Security is not at all what it appears to be. People are told that they pay into a “trust fund” which will provide for them in old age, but of course this is lie: whatever monies Social Security taxes take in are spent immediately, both on the program itself and on other federal programs as well. This should be obvious. If your money was really in a trust fund, there would be no issue as to whether it would be there when you retired.
Social Security’s less intelligent (or more dishonest) defenders sometimes claim that you will receive far more from the program upon retirement than you paid in. This is true, but only in a Machiavellian sense. At present, your Social Security “investment” earns a 2.2 percent return. In short, you would earn more with a passbook savings account. Adjusted for inflation, you will lose money. Meanwhile, the government will use your retirement savings to fund $15,000 hammers and NEA grants for people who dip crucifixes in urine. If your private fund-manager tried this, he would go to jail.
Scams like this are illegal in every state. Only the federal government retains the “right” to commit securities fraud. The result is a nightmare, a nation full of young people who can’t afford to save and old people who can’t afford to eat. But we can set things right. And anyone who owns an IRA knows how.
Amazingly, anyone who makes minimum wage can and would under a privatized system retire a millionaire. This is because of the miracle of compound interest. Suppose you are 20 years old and earning $10,000 a year. You and your employer are paying $1,240 a year in Social Security taxes. That’s 12.4 percent of your hard-earned income, for benefits that you will likely never see.
Suppose instead you could invest that same $1,240, as well as an additional $2.50 a week. By the time you are 65, thanks to the magic of compound interest, you would be a millionaire. You would be assured a comfortable retirement. You certainly wouldn’t be subsisting on the subhuman pittance Social Security doles out.
Let’s look at the math, assuming a long-term return on your investments of 8 percent a year. (This is a prudent assumption: the annual return on the Standard & Poor’s 500 over the past 70 years, including the Great Depression, is actually 10.19 percent.) If you can save $30 a week ($1,560 a year), after 10 years the value of your portfolio is $29,000. After 20 years, it is $110,000. After 30 years, it is $318,000. Forty years — $822,000. And 45 years — the normal working lifetime — $1.3 million. After 50 years, if you work until age 70, the value of your portfolio jumps all the way to $2 million.
This is, by the way, your money. Not a federal welfare check.
Now let’s adjust this for inflation, assuming a historically reasonable 4 percent long-term rate. Your portfolio of $1.3 million after 45 years would be closer to $230,000. That’s still a larger nest egg than most working Americans even dream of. With that amount of capital, you could purchase an annuity at age 65 that would give you $18,256 a year (in today’s dollars) during your retirement years.
Note that this $18,256 is almost double the $10,000 annual income we assumed at the beginning. Pick an income any income, save a proportionate amount for your retirement, and under a private Social Security system you will retire on almost double. This would utterly eradicate poverty among the old, resolve most of the problems in our health care system, and allow people to look forward to their futures with excitement and hope.
State monopolies didn’t work in Russia, and they don’t work here. Moreover, God promises curses on societies that rob the widow and the orphan, as well as blessings on the just. Social Security is both the crime and the curse, and it is time to replace it once and for all. If there is to be a new Contract With America, Republicans should make this one of its central promises.