Why Politicians Lie About Social Security

Elderly couple.
mixetto via Getty Images

On Tuesday, I apparently blew up the Internet because I touched the political third rail. I talked about Social Security.

Now I know what you’re thinking: What’s so spicy about Social Security? And I will admit I was thinking the same thing.

Well, I said two things.

First, I said that Social Security needs to change. We must raise the retirement age.

Second, I said that as a general rule, it is not a good personal decision for people to retire early, unless we are talking about people who suffer a physical or mental malady as a result of continued work. Retirement, particularly in the post-familial, post-church age, harms mental health and robs people of purpose. That doesn’t mean you can’t retire if you want to — it’s a free country — or that you should be forced not to retire if you can afford to retire. It means that we should seriously consider what “retirement” itself means before we jump to the universal belief that retirement is always good.

Let’s start with the first argument.

There are a few simple facts of the matter with regard to Social Security. One, we don’t have the money for it: it’s a Ponzi scheme. We don’t have enough young people to pay for it, and life expectancy has increased. This means that by 2033, we will in fact be forced to cut benefits or raise taxes. There is no third option.

This means that the government should not be paying people to phase into retirement at 62. And make no mistake, that’s what’s happening: Other taxpayers are paying for your Social Security. The money you paid in was stolen long ago. Which means that fewer and fewer workers — people generally poorer than those of retirement age — are paying for more and more retirees.

What’s more, the average person who lives to 60 will live at least another couple of decades. If you wish to bankrupt the American economy, the continuation of Social Security as-is is guaranteed to do so. Every single politician knows this. And they all lie for political gain.

Second, with regard to the personal decision to retire, very often when people retire, they’re making a bad decision.

Not always, of course: There are people who are suffering from health problems who don’t want to continue working. That’s understandable. And if you want to retire on your own dime, because you’ve earned enough to retire, and you can find other forms of fulfillment aside from work, that’s certainly your prerogative.

The point I was making is that many people who see retirement as a cure-all will be disappointed. Statistically, according to one study from the Institute of Economic Affairs, “while retirement may initially benefit health – by reducing stress and creating time for other activities, adverse effects increase the longer retirement goes on. It found retirement increases the chances of suffering from clinical depression by around 40%, and of having at least one diagnosed physical illness by 60%.” According to a meta-analysis of retirees, continuing to work prolonged life for those who worked beyond 65: “Healthy workers that continued to work until they were 66 had an 11% reduced mortality risk. Even retirees with health conditions that worked until they were 66 still had a 9% reduced mortality risk.” Yet another study from Social Science and Medicine finds that “those who had retired were 40 percent more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those who were still working.”

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My point about retiring is simple: Work provides purpose and fulfillment for a huge number of people throughout their lives. That purpose and fulfillment does not automatically disappear at age 65. If we really believe that work is inherently degrading and joyless, what does an ideal retirement age look like? In that world, we should be looking to institute a universal basic income and get rid of work entirely. Which would, of course, be a truly awful idea.

The vision of retirement we are constantly sold — sitting on a beach in a lounge chair — may not actually be real for many people. And what’s more, all people need a sense of purpose — from family, from community, from church. Our society has steadily removed all of those social institutions from daily life. The elderly no longer live in intergenerational homes, helping out kids and grandkids; they’re too often shuttled into old age homes, dependent on programs like Social Security. Which means a lot of people find that purpose in work. Retirement from work without getting involved in another job, or another community purpose, or in church is a recipe for personal malaise.

Now, again, you can choose to retire. Nobody should force you to work; nobody is suggesting anything like that. But when it comes to government subsidization of retirement, we can’t afford it, and there’s little evidence that it’s good public policy.


The solution, of course, is for you to keep your own money. We ought to phase out the Social Security system — if you’re close to 65, you can’t be left without a safety net, of course. But we need to move toward a system where you get to keep your own money, save and invest for the future.

Politicians will continue to lie about this. But we should all understand that they are, in fact, lying.

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Why Politicians Lie About Social Security