Every now and then, someone will say something that you already knew, that pretty much everyone knows on an innate level, but it suddenly dawns on you that it’s something utterly absurd and inexplicable and fundamentally wrong. You can almost see and feel the light bulb flashing on over your head.
In this case, it’s the thought that public sector employees ought to be part of Social Security.
For a long time, fiscal conservatives have pushed for members of Congress to be subject to Social Security — paying their taxes, collecting their benefits. And we’ve all known, at some level, that not just members of Congress, but pretty much all state and federal employees are exempted from mandatory participation in Social Security.
Correction: Members of Congress were exempt from Social Security for most of its history, but were enrolled in it during the Reagan administration. But for the vast majority of federal and state employees, Social Security participation is strictly optional.
But why? After all, Social Security is a part of the federal government, administered by these employees’ brethren. Why don’t they trust their brothers and sisters in service with their retirement benefits?
This reform would go light-years towards bringing a sense of responsibility and accountability to Social Security, and to government employees in general. It would give an infusion of fresh revenue to this grand Ponzi scheme that’s been ongoing for nigh on a century (OK, almost 80 years), but this time from people who quite frankly deserve to be part of the scam that is Social Security.
This also brings to mind an oft-repeated statement by Howie Carr (Boston Herald columnist and New England talk show host): he has made a standing offer: he will forgo all of his contributions to Social Security, renouncing any and all benefits for him and his heirs, in exchange for not having to contribute any more for the rest of his life. The Social Security administration can keep his 40-odd years of payments, if he can just not pay any more for the rest of his working life.
Sounds like a good deal, but he’s yet to be taken up on it.
So here’s the radical notion: all public employees ought to be required to participate in the public “retirement plan” that is Social Security. Conversely, those not on the public payroll can choose to “opt out” and exchange all their past payments into the system for future exclusion.
Punishment for the public sector? Not at all. Just a condition of their employment. We expect employees of big corporations to demonstrate their faith in their products. There was a bit of a stir a few years ago when Ford hired a new CEO who owned a Mercedes. Bill Gates most likely does not have a Mac in his home (except, perhaps, as a doorstop). Coke gets irate when its celebrity endorsers chug a Pepsi in public.
And as we, as a nation, value freedom and choice and liberty, why shouldn’t people be allowed to choose to not participate in Social Security? Oh, I suppose, as a compromise we could require people to participate for at least a few years — say, a decade or two — before they can opt out, but the Carr Option is hard to refudiate if one is intellectually honest.