Rights not Entitlements

Conservatives have always hated Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, and those implemented under President Johnson. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have gone a long way to ensure that people will have a reasonable quality of life rather than remain mired in grinding poverty as they are in many countries.

Ever since the financial disaster of the Great Depression, conservatives have seen the poorer classes as lazy, undeserving, unable to plan for the future or to look after themselves. They love to blame economic malaise and crises on the underclasses, rather than on those that gamble with peoples lives, i.e. corporate entities and the well-to-do.

Social Security is under continual attack as a government program that the underclasses use to enrich themselves on the backs of taxpayers and those that work for a living. The analogy is grossly exaggerated and does not reflect the realities of the program.

Firstly, while Social Security is a program that is overseen by central government, it is not a government handout by any manner of means. It is an insurance policy into which people pay for their entire working lives. The benefits that they receive are calculated based on how much they contributed and how long they worked to put money into the program. It is their money that they are receiving when the money is paid out, not government money, not someone else’s money, their own funds.

If government spends those funds on frivolous programs, like two unfunded wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that is not the fault of the people that put money into the program. Many people that put their hard earned income into the program may or may not have agreed with two unnecessary wars. As with any insurance policy, the payee is entitled to a payout based on the terms of the policy.

Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system, which means that current payments are distributed to those that paid into the system before and currently receive benefits. Conservatives love to claim that people receive more in benefits than they put into the system. That is precisely how many insurance policies work. If I put my money into a retirement fund for the first ten years of my life, lets say $100, and then leave it until I retire at 65, the insurance company will invest those funds and the total amount will be far larger when I retire. If that $100 grew at a rate of 8%, which is around what the stock market returns, and I cashed it in after 35 years, which is when I retire, it would be worth some $1630. This is the beauty of compounding.

To say that people receive more in benefits than they put into the system is quite obvious. The economy grew incrementally during those years when money was being put into the system, so naturally, one would expect a larger payout when one retires. You are not receiving more than you are due, from an actuarial perspective, you are receiving what you are owed. You also need to take the cost of living, or inflation in consideration when calculating these payouts. You cannot expect someone to retire on a fixed income and live for 25 or 30 years considering inflation.

In other words, Social Security is not an entitlement, any more than receiving money from an IRA or 401k is an entitlement. It is your money. It is a right.

The same goes for Medicare. This is money that people have put into the system, and should have a right to receive it in medical payments. Turning it into a voucher system is just not workable. People do not know before they grow older what fortune will throw in their path, what diseases or maladies will strike them, so it is impossible for them to know how much they should cater for. With an insurance system like Medicare, risks are spread across the system, just as they are actuarially in any insurance system. This is the beauty of a single payer system. It also means that if you are no longer able to pay into the system, you will receive benefits from that system.

Conservatives make much of the unfunded portion of Medicare, that the costs will spiral out of control in the future. The problem is not with Medicare, the problem is medical costs in general, which are rising at around 15% per year. We as a nation have to tackle the cost of providing medical services across the board, which means looking at the health of the population and what we as a nation can do to improve that situation. It is no longer personal responsibility when our health affects the entire population. We need to change how we treat our bodies as a nation.

There are other alternatives to rising costs in the medical system. Firstly we can contain costs by eliminating unnecessary procedures, which is what the American Care Act tries to do. We can make the system more efficient by centralizing medical records, which is also something the ACA tries to do. We can increase the percentage that citizens pay into the system, and eliminate the cap on income that is taxable. We can eliminate elective surgeries that may be covered currently, or surgeries deemed not life threatening. We can eliminate fraud and waste, or we can increase the age at which benefits are received.

Not to have a social safety net, which is currently covered by parole taxes, is really a crime against humanity. Conservatives should be called out on this.

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