Thursday, October 13, 2011

Walter Williams Wants Your 65-year-old Grandmother to Clear Brush

There are plenty of different opinions on the Social Security debate - some people think it's part of a social contract between citizens that implores the most able to contribute to help those most vulnerable, while others would prefer if the old just died in a gutter somewhere out of sight.

I kid, of course, the social security debate is too complicated to go into here, although the whole 'inverted pyramid' the right-wingers worry about causing problems 25 years down the line will largely be gone, since the main problem social security faces is that the baby boomers (who didn't have a lot of children) are aging into it now. Of course, in 25 years most of those baby boomers will be dead, and their children, the Generation Xers, will be going on social security with a more robust base of workers, since they had proportionately more children than their parents did.

Also, you could just raise the cap, so people up to a million dollars in income paid a little more money into the trust fund. There's that.

Of course, I'm not here to offer my solutions, because it's way more fun to point and laugh at the solution that Walter Williams offers, because it's hilariously stupid.

After a few paragraphs of explaining why Social Security is evil, which includes the old standbys 'it's a Ponzi scheme!' and 'a trust fund is just a promise!' I'll just quickly refute both of those - a Ponzi scheme is when you secretly have a pyramid-based payout system, but lie and tell people you're brilliantly investing the money. The lie is why it's illegal. Social security is just a pyramid-based payout system designed to help old people by asking young people to all kick some money into a pot. As for the second claim, the one that always sounds like a bunch of guys at in the back room of the CATO institute mumbled it through a marijuana fog: "Hey man, what is a 'trust fund' anyway, but just a promise? In fact, dude, isn't money just a promise? And since a promise isn't a real thing, then money is all an illusion! Quick, somebody find me a pen!"

Yes, individualists and libertarians, a trust fund is a promise, like all contracts are. A promise made by a government of accountable people working under a system of binding laws with judicial oversight. Since your goal is a society/economy based on promises made by either a giant faceless corporation or some bearded guy in a pickup truck, I think I'm far more likely to trust the government with this one, thanks.

Let's move to Walter's solution to the financial crisis in social security, though, because, as promised, it's hilarious:

"Here's what might be a temporary fix: The federal government owns huge quantities of wasting assets – assets that are not producing anything – 650 million acres of land, almost 30 percent of the land area of the United States. In exchange for those who choose to opt out of Social Security and forsake any future claim, why not pay them off with 40 or so acres of land? Doing so would give us breathing room to develop a free choice method to finance retirement."

In Walter's mind this is a perfect solution. "I hate national parks! I hate social security! So I'll just kill two birds with one stone!"

What does Walter think would be the result of giving people these 40 Acres of land? Does he think there's going to be a new generation of geriatric homesteaders? How valuable does he imagine 40 acres of land without amenities or access is? You're a retiree living in Detroit, and suddenly the government says 'here: you own 40 Acres of trees in northern Michigan. Now go away and never call us again.' What happens next, Walter? The only thing any of these people would be able to do is sell those plots of land for something along the lines of 30 thousand dollars each - if they're lucky. Which gets the old people what, three more years of scrounging along? Five if they don't mind eating cat food and start picking and choosing what pills they absolutely need to survive?

Net result - all of America's parks, forests, and waterways would be owned by giant corporations which (thanks to Walter's brilliant no-EPA plan) have no restrictions on how they can use them to generate short-term profit! Also, a bunch of old people froze to death in condemned buildings.

Perhaps the funniest part of this 'sell off of America's assets to pay off a minor (in national terms) debt' plan is that there will be a hypothetical 'free market solution' to deal with retirement in the future. While I'm sure the stock market would love to get their hands on everyone's money (the Bush plan from 2005, as I understand it), the fact is putting everyone into retirement plans is an absurd pipe dream. Rich people don't need retirement plans, and poor people can't afford them. Retirement plans are the territory of the Middle class, and in the future Walter imagines where minimum wages don't exist and unions are illegal, the middle class will be as extinct as old people who are no longer capable of lifting a shovel.

Social security is, at its basest level, the thing America does to keep old people from dying from exposure in gutters. It's not perfect at that, but it's better than what was before, which was nothing. I'd like to hazard a guess as to why Walter Williams wants to go back to the time of crushing elderly poverty, but I'm not a psychologist. Maybe he's heartless, maybe he still resents his parents, maybe, like so many other upper-middle-class people he simply can't imagine what it would be like to be the one begging for help, rather than the one being asked.

Oh, and Walter - I know that willful ignorance is your thing, but just so that obvious lie doesn't go unanswered, let me just clarify something: When Obama said that the cheques wouldn't go out, it's not because the government doesn't have the money to pay them, it's because with all but emergency government services shut down, there would be no one to mail them.

That's right, Walter, if the government shuts down, there will be no social security cheques. Of course, we'll have bigger things to worry about, like new corporate feudalism and roving bands of marauders. So basically Land of the Dead, only replace the zombies with poor people.

Actually, you know what? Exactly Land of the Dead.

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