A Historical Perspective of the Social Security Nightmare

“The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and assistance to foreign hands should be curtailed, lest Rome fall.”

– Marcus Tullius Cicero, 55 B.C.

What rhymes with Cicero? Not much. But if, as the saying goes, history itself rhymes, today’s welfare-warfare state has plenty worth holding up against the soft, fading light of that long-fallen empire: Corrupt politicians…predatory bankers…ruinous military misadventures to faraway lands…a gluttonous citizenry feeding at the trough of public monies and, of course, the insidious, ridiculous illusion that any single participant could have made one jot of difference to the great charade as it unfolded before their very eyes.

The charade to which we refer is the very same phenomenon the Roman poet Juvenal referred to as “bread and circuses” in the tenth of his Satires. It is the superficial appeasement of the masses by the political class who, seeking to prevent massive uprising and revolt against their rule, doll out meager alms in the form of mass distraction. The success of this grand dupe depends on, and excels because of, the widespread assumption that the political class is working for the benefit of their employers, the taxpaying populace, rather than, as is the stark, impassionate reality, their merely effecting to do so. Nothing, not a sunrise at midnight, not a man immortal, could be further from reality. Far from serving their masters on bended knee, elected officials behave more like dogs than public servants, entirely dependent on their keepers for food and forever assuming they will be around with a doggy bag to clean up their mess.

“Government,” as Frédéric Bastiat, writing some 1,800 years after Juvenal, expressed it, “is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

And so we come to better understand our own predicament today. When a lending institution lends too much and is repaid too little, the poisoned olive branch of government extends. When a profligate spender – with sufficient influence in the public sphere, mind you – falters under the weight of its own obligations, the state appears with a bottomless cup. Multi-trillion dollar bailouts, and more still to come. Schemes, scams and stratagems that, we are told, are all for our own good. From the floor of Congress to the evening news, a trumpet calls all “men and women of reason” to fight against “total collapse of our system”…to lead us back from the “edge of the abyss.”

Bread and circuses…

What then, when the Treasury is spent and the Fed’s arsenal deployed? When debts sold off to once willing foreigners inevitably come due? When the children to whom this legacy of larceny is left realize the hand they were dealt and demand, with clenched fists of their own, a fair and equal opportunity, the chance to ruin or succeed based on their own generation’s cowardice or courage? What comes after the determined destruction of the nation’s currency…again?

Nowhere is Bastiat’s observation better reflected than when the looking glass is held up to Social Security. The ruse, sold to American’s under the same old banners, fraught with “safety net” misnomers and “falling through the cracks” platitudes, is up. On September 30, this Thursday, six years ahead of schedule, the “fund” officially goes into the red. What will they tell us next? What price must we pay in order that the grand charade is allowed to go on? What story must we now swallow?

Don’t fret, Fellow Reckoner. They’ll surely think of something. And that’s precisely the problem.

Joel Bowman
for The Daily Reckoning