COLUMN: Please cut my Social Security benefits

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I hope to retire around 2030. Three years after that, according to the latest government study, Social Security benefits will have to be cut by over 20%. We need Social Security reform, and we need it now. We can start by cutting my benefits.

Social Security is the well-known “third rail” of politics; it’s deadly to even talk about touching it. As a nation, we have come to view Social Security as a triumph of compassion, a comforting security blanket that is always there, a resounding achievement of democracy. I’d like to suggest none of that is true.

Like all such programs, Social Security was originally intended for a much smaller population: widows, orphans and the elderly poor. Like all such programs, it expanded rapidly. It now encompasses virtually every citizen of working age.

Social Security is funded through a 12.4% tax on earnings split equally by employees and employers, up to a wage ceiling. That rate will have to rise to almost 15.7% to provide full benefits beyond 2033. Proportionally, that’s a 26% tax increase that will fall mostly on low wage earners and the middle class. That makes no sense.

Raising taxes on wages also makes it more expensive to hire employees and threatens economic growth. Is this really something we want to do?

Social Security’s rhetoric is couched in the language of “trust funds”. But they are nothing of the sort. They do not contain assets, merely IOU’s issued by the government to itself. If you or I tried to create that kind of “trust fund”, we’d go straight to jail.

Social Security is a “pay as you go” system: Taxes from future beneficiaries are immediately sent right back out to current ones. Again, any private company that set up a pension that way would go to prison.

Most tragically, Social Security is a horribly unfair wealth transfer program from young to old. Over the past 80 years, the ratio of workers to beneficiaries has shrunk from 41 to 3.

Life expectancy has increased by 16 years since Social Security’s creation, but the age for full retirement eligibility has only gone up by two.

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Social Security is also saddling our young adults with incredible debt. Its unfunded obligations total around $25 trillion. That’s almost as large as the national debt.

This is not sustainable. As a father of two young adults, I think my kids deserve better. Yours, too.

We have to get beyond believing the only choices are raising taxes, cutting benefits or some combination of the two. There are lots of other possibilities that move the needle of reform in the right direction.

Americans, young workers in particular, need to be given the option of investing their payroll taxes in private investment accounts, with the risk-reward trade-offs up to them.

Social Security needs to stop being earnings-based, and instead move to a flat-rate benefit that is more in keeping with its founding as an anti-poverty program. As intermediate steps, the age for full benefits needs to raised, and benefits need to be indexed to inflation instead of wage growth.

Ultimately, we need to give up on the delusion government’s power to tax is some kind of magic fairy dust that makes wishes come true and provides benefits without costs. We are better than that.

And yes, my benefits should be cut. I ask only one thing: that I not be the only one. I want to be part of a political consensus that is ready to make the tough sacrifices necessary so that the next generation has a decent chance to flourish in America. Who’s with me?

Barry Fagin is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver and the author of “The Radical Center.” His views are his alone. Readers can contact Fagin at