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For several months our President has advocated change in the Social Security system, but it appears now that his proposals are not going to succeed.
Perhaps there is another solution, much more realistic. Let's emphasize the "social" in Social Security. My dictionary says that "social" means the welfare of human beings as members of a society. I think that in simple, plain English, this means that "we are all in this together." Yet at the same time, I see that from the top administration of our society, down through the elected representatives, they have their own retirement systems, their own "social security" for their little society.
We praise people for being "public servants," for their "public service." So, let them be part of the society and share, hand in hand, with all the rest. Then we could truly praise them for their public service.
Here is a possible solution to the Social Security problem. First, all elected national officials - the President, his staff, the United States Senate and House of Representatives - all would pay into the Social Security system, and their retirements would be based upon the amount they have paid in. Right now, Congress has its own retirement system. Whatever funds have been set aside for those retirements could be deposited into the Social Security system. When the president, or member of Congress, retires, he would receive benefits from Social Security, just like everyone else. They could even be enrolled in Medicare. There would be no special retirement programs. It would be truly "social." But their income from the federal government would be limited to what they have paid into the system. As I understand it now, a person must contribute to Social Security for forty "quarters" or at least ten years. Congress would no longer be allowed to set up its own private retirement system apart from Social Security.
Secondly, the income from Social Security could be set aside as a separate, reserved fund, and not considered part of the general income of the nation, to be spent for other purposes. It would be a savings fund for those who have contributed to the system.
Individuals, "public servants," may have income from other sources. As the president has suggested, they could invest other monies into their own private retirement accounts, just as the rest of us might invest in a 401(K) or an IRA.
The solution to the Social Security question is to make all members of the society participants. I think that if the president, members of the administration, the Senate and House of Representatives, had to look forward to their retirement based just on their Social Security and Medicare benefits, and their private investments, that we would all benefit, rich and poor, as members of the society known as the United States of America.
If we are all in this together, they would be much more concerned.
There would be an added benefit. When individuals leave their businesses to devote time to "public service," and then exit with only the benefits that all other members of the society share, they would truly be honored, respected and applauded for their contribution.
I know this is simply a dream, an illusion, because those who "represent" us, also represent themselves. However, since they make the laws, they also created their own retirement systems. They set themselves apart from the system, our society. Are they public servants, or public parasites?
Wally Olson is emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska Southeast.