Social Security, Payroll Taxes, and Incentives

Homeless Man - Social SecurityI’d like to discuss Social Security in a roundabout way. I do a lot of work that deals with web hosting companies. Most of them offer some kind of money-back guarantee. And the better ones will add something like, “No questions asked!” It got me thinking of a small minded business owner who offers a money-back guarantee and then grouses every time someone takes them up on it. What’s with that?

You have to think about why a company offers a money-back guarantee. It’s done to signal trust to the customer. It’s a form of marketing. The company doesn’t offer it just because it is nice; it offers it because it believes that it will only get some of the more marginal customers by offering it. And the truth is, people rarely do take advantage of money-back guarantees. Much more common is someone who buys hosting and then never uses it — effectively giving the hosting company money for nothing at all.

Our small minded business owner is not looking at the situation logically. They are seeing just what they lose and nothing of what they gain. It is like advertising in the newspaper and then complaining that it is costing you money. Right! Because you are getting something for the money. You have to look at both sides of the ledger. And it is the same thing in politics.

It depends upon young people being fine with 15% of their income taken that will never — and could never — benefit them.

I constantly hear conservatives talking about phasing out Social Security. Their favorite trick is to say that it won’t affect anyone 55 and older (which just happens to be the core of their political support). But the way that Social Security operates is that people working now pay for the people retired now. That was the only way the program could work, given that it had to start at some point.

So let’s suppose we tell 25 year olds that they will not get Social Security when they retire. Well, the older people still need their benefits, which means that we will still have to be collecting payroll taxes. But by the thinking of conservatives who have wanted to destroy the program from its very first day, this poses no problem: it depends upon young people being fine with 15% of their income taken that will never — and could never — benefit them. Is that a reasonable assumption? Of course not!

The truth is that conservatives know this. They might make up pretty stories for people close to retirement, but they know that younger people would never agree to pay the same highly regressive tax if their benefits were reduced — for the youngest, to zero. But despite what they say, the idea is not that Social Security is going bankrupt (because it isn’t). And it isn’t about reforming the program going forward. It is about killing the program — as quickly as possible for everyone.

It’s not that they just hate people. It’s that conservatives are the most ideological people in the nation. They care more about that ideology than they do people, because in their minds, if only their ideology were followed, all the problems would disappear. So I’m not saying they are psychopaths. But I am saying that they want to destroy Social Security (and a whole lot more). You should never believe them when they talk about “reform.” When conservatives talk about “reform” they are really trying to pick your pocket.

Morning Music: Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al YankovicI think the Morning Music posts have gotten rather boring. It’s just a matter of time and focus. If I weren’t so overworked, I’d be able to inject some passion into the project. But in the mean time, I thought I might inject some of your passion into the process. I’d like you all to give me exercises that I could do. And to start it all, I asked Elizabeth to recommend six Weird Al Yankovic songs, since she seems to like him.

I have nothing against him. I’ve known of him since his early days sending in tapes to Dr Demento. He’s clearly very bright and creative. So this is an opportunity to find out a bit more about him. I checked and it turns out that he is slightly older than I am. I like that time works that way: people that are older than me always will be. Unfortunately, people who are younger than me always will be too. But I don’t know why I care, given that I am always at the perfect age.

As usual, however, I’m totally behind in things. This was the Weekend of the 43,000 Word FAQ. It’s still not done, but I’m at the point where I can hardly see straight. So we’ll do an easy one — a Christmas song. It’s “Christmas at Ground Zero.” It is at least partly Weird Al Yankovic’s homage to Tom Lehrer’s “We Will All Go Together When We Go.” It also makes me think of the great film, Matinee. I suppose we should all try to have a good time as we face our doom.

Anniversary Post: King Henry V

Henry VOn this day in 1413, Henry V of England became king. He was king for less than ten years, due to his early death. And his reputation really is just due to the British victory at the Battle of Agincourt. Now that’s one of those great battles that sum up the stupidity of war. Reading Shakespeare, you would think that the British simply fought more bravely than the French. But if anything, they fought more cowardly. It was all due to the use of the long bow that allowed the victory. The vast majority of the British troops were archers. Bravery and resolve in such matters are fairy tales designed to convince men to get themselves killed for no good reason.

It is, then, perhaps appropriate that the great warrior king should die at the age of 36 of dysentery. You gotta love that!

Anyway, Shakespeare’s play Henry V is not bad. It’s interesting how different people at different times have performed it. It’s clear that Shakespeare meant it to be the jingoistic travesty that becomes clear if you sit down and read the whole thing. But normally when it is performed today, people finesse it into something anti-war, or at least nuanced. Which it isn’t. As I’ve argued for years: Shakespeare has benefited greatly by having 400 years of the best editors, directors, and actors finding meaning he never intended and probably would have found horrifying.

Still, we should mark this day of King Henry V by listening to Kenneth Branagh’s do the Saint Crispin’s Day speech. It’s great. It’s beautiful. His performance is wonderful. Yet what he says is vile. Pretty language should never be used to hide ugly ideas.