Friday, February 25, 2011

Scott Adams: How a Smart Guy Shows He is Stupid

I like Scott Adams' Dilbert cartoon, but I'm coming to loathe Scott Adams the human being. He is a reactionary "libertarian" who deliberately misunderstands the way the world works. Here's his latest blog posting:
What exactly is Social Security?

Some say Social Security is like a retirement plan, but that would require it to be self-funding, which it isn't.

I've called Social Security a Ponzi scheme because it's funded by the next generation of suckers. But Ponzi schemes are voluntary. So that analogy is flawed.

Some say Social Security is a social safety net. But old people wouldn't die on the streets if the program suddenly stopped sending out checks. You and I are compassionate. We would open our homes and take in the oldsters. The alternative would be feral gangs of senior citizens grazing on our rosebushes. That's not good for property values.

So it seems to me that the main purpose of Social Security is to prevent old people from sleeping on our couches. Keeping old people out of the house, and away from the rosebushes, is expensive, so we cleverly pass along part of the bill to people who haven't yet been born.

While each person in my generation is paying to prevent, on average, one old person from sleeping on his couch, the next generation will be paying to keep two or three old people out of the living room, and the thermostat below 85 degrees. It might seem like a bargain to them. I call that fair.

People in my age group don't have a cool name like the Greatest Generation. But I think we have a legitimate chance of someday being known as the Generation that Prevented the Greatest Generation from Sleeping on Its Couches.
He pretends to know know what Social Security is, but the answer is at his fingertips with Wikipedia. Just click the link I provided in the previous sentence.

He claims he doesn't know how it is funded. It has always been funded by the current generation paying for the current seniors' retirement. He wants to call that a Ponzi scheme. It isn't. It is the same principle that families are built on (parents care for children when they are young, the children take care of their senior parents). We don't talk about "family exploitation" and demand that children stop requiring parents to feed, clothe, and raise them. We don't talk about seniors "extorting" money from their adult children to help them. Why does Scott Adams want to see social programs as "exploitation"?

The reality is that back in the early 1980s Greenspan ran a group that changed the funding formula for Social Security. The worry was that the retirement of the Baby Boomers would bust the system. So the plan was to build up a huge surplus to tide the system over during the retirement of the Baby Boomers. So they started charging a lot more for FICA. And a big surplus was built up. And just last year did that process of setting aside hundreds of billions (trillions?) to fund the Baby Boomers finally came to an end because the number of retirees started growing, so the big surpluses have come to an end and the system will not start taking tiny amounts from that surplus to cover the extra costs over the next 30 years. Social Security is well funded. But the Scott Adams' of the world ignore this fact. Instead they focus on the fact that Social Security funds is just "IOUs" and are "meaningless". Well, if you are a thief, then ownership is "meaningless" and up for grabs. But for most normal people, the Social Security Trust Fund is well funded and isn't "going broke". Adams has to know this, but he willfully purveys the lie that it is some kind of "Ponzi scheme".

This is expecially funny because Scott Adams presents himself as a paragon of virtue would would willingly look after not just his own aged parents, but any aged person in need. He says "You and I are compassionate. We would open our homes and take in the oldsters.". If he is so compassionate, why is he complaining about a social program to help the aged? I don't know Mr. Adams but I suspect he is a hypocrite. I suspect he loves to play Scrooge McDuck and sit on his piles of gold and let the gold pieces trickle through his fingers and his real complaint is that the government would tax him to force him to exercise his so-called "charity" for others.

He claims that the US doesn't need Social Security because "Some say Social Security is a social safety net. But old people wouldn't die on the streets if the program suddenly stopped sending out checks.". But if Scott Adams read some history he would find that prior to government programs, a fair number of old people did "die in the streets". Those who were spinsters and never married, those who were childless couples, those who were socially isolated. But Scott Adams lives in an ideologues heaven where there are no storm clouds, where manna falls from heaven, and liberty reigns. He lives in a fantasy world. Prior to Social Security there was real privation among those too old to continue to work.

Ah... but the Scott Adams' of the world have a solution. They are pulling out the old playbook and calling for a "fix" to Social Security that would simply tell people to work into their late 60s, through their 70s, through their 80s, and if they are so luck as to live into their 90s, to keep plugging away at a job so that they don't become "social parasites" and require a rich man like Scott Adams to have to give up the possibility of a third vacation home, or taking his eighth getaway vacation, or hiring his fourth domestic servant. You know, times are tough for the rich, the world needs more WalMart greeters. That keeps the aged "productively employed" where they should be!

I gag when I think of Scott Adams. He is a hypocrite. He is too smart to not know the lies he spews. To point of social programs is to give everybody a social safety net. But Scott Adams wants to go back to the sharp divides of the Dickensian era when the rich could lord it over the underclass and the poor people knew that their life was a veil of tears, many years of hard work, and when their health failed, the only recourse was to crawl in a corner and slowly starve to death because the "charity" of the rich was certainly "on show" with lots of balls and galas where the rich showed off their "urge to help the poor" but in fact the poor were left to starve. All those "donations" really went to wine and dine the rich. It didn't end up as crusts of bread and a little milk for the poor.


thomas said...

So many look at it the scott adams way for some reason..

OK, if workers were compensated fairly for work done and all of us could live in a world where the average person had live in servants; I could understand the concept of taking care of our parents. You see there would be a couple of rooms that could be utilized for permanent guest quarters and we just wouldn't have as many overnight guests.. bummer. I guess this is the world of the republicans or libertarians, but this is not the real world of average Americans. I have trouble putting up my sons who return home on occasion and they have to sleep on the couch or floor.

Social Security is a sacred trust and woe to those who want to destroy it. If we went with the scott adams plan our elderly could no longer be independent and proud of living in the richest country in the world, but would be lucky to have the crumbs from some rich man's table or live with their children. We all pay into Social Security and it is not a charity, so retired people can proudly collect it each month because they paid into it. This concept of calling it an entitlement is so corrupt and immoral because it steals the pride from these people who should be able to be proud of working and providing for their families their whole working life. I hate this current slander of a very upstanding program.

Another thing to consider: Where will the thieving politicians get their money for their programs if their is not a Social Security account and where would they have borrowed their money from in the past if not for this account?

RYviewpoint said...

Thomas: You've hit on the reason why the Republicans get so fired up about Social Security: "Where will the thieving politicians get their money for their programs if their is not a Social Security account and where would they have borrowed their money from in the past if not for this account?". These funds were to be "saved" but they weren't. They've been spent. The Republicans are right to talk about this Social Security fund as "just IOUs".

From Wikipedia:

As a result of these changes, particularly the tax increases, the Social Security system began to generate a large short-term surplus of funds, intended to cover the added retirement costs of the "baby boomers." Congress invested these surpluses into special series, non-marketable U.S. Treasury securities held by the Social Security Trust Fund. In other words, Congress borrowed the surpluses from the Social Security system; the Treasury securities held by the S.S. Trust fund are U.S. government "I.O.U.s". Under the law, the government bonds held by Social Security are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. Because the government had adopted the unified budget during the Johnson administration, this surplus offsets the total fiscal debt, making it look much smaller.

The problem is that both parties raided the future nest egg and incorporated it into the general federal budget to make deficits "magically go away".

The fix is to get honest about the budget. No more Bush wars that are "off the budget". No more raiding the Social Security trust fund. It will be painful, but it can and should be done.

Scott Adams is completely dishonest to claim that people are going to "take in the old people off the street". The US already has a big problem with homeless people. I don't see private persons like Scott Adams taking in one or two to do "his share" of fixing this problem.

You are right, Thomas, to point out that an important selling point of the Social Security program is that "you have paid for it, so it isn't welfare, it is your money returned to you in old age" so you can live a dignified life.

People like Adams may claim it isn't necessary, but all the statistics show that most people (well over 70%) don't save enough for their retirement. Social Security is a government program that uses force to make sure people save for their old age. The libertarians want it to be a choice like health insurance. But in both cases you would get large majorities claiming "they don't need it" and then when the get old or sick, they can't pay and they become a burden on people around them. The government runs to program to get rid of a social problem. That's what governments are meant to do.

The only fly in the ointment is that Social Security pays recipients more than they put in. How? Partly because the survivors are collecting funds of people who died before they retired or died early in retirement. Partly it is because having the current generation pay the current retirees means that "inflation" can be finessed by using the higher wages of the current generation to cover the actually inadequate amounts put aside by current retirees. But that is exactly what the trustees of the fund have calculated. It is like an insurance policy. If your house burns down you get more money than you ever paid for insurance because your fellow policy holders are helping to cover your costs!

thomas said...

Thanks again for the reply..

I have to apologize for the typos, specifically, "there".
I hate when I do that..

You know that you have brought the facts to the discussion and that is what needs to be looked at, then people need to think about what is important to them right now and what will concern them a few years from now.. I don't think very many would like the idea of curtailing the things that they want to give their kids so they can give their parents a home and provide for them. I don't want my kids to rob their family or future to house me or take care of me. That is just obscene..