It’s forgivable that Ben Franklin didn’t include governmental bureaucracies with death and taxes as being the only certainties of life. After all, he died 143 years before that other Franklin – Roosevelt – laid the groundwork for the America’s administrative state.

This revelation came to me in early October, five days after my wife passed away, when a letter from the Social Security Administration notified me I was entitled to $255 in spousal survivor death benefits. The funeral home had reported the death a day after it happened, so I was surprised by how quickly the SSA sprang into action.

The letter told me to call a toll-free number about the benefit claim, which I promptly did. After going through an irritating introductory robo spiel (“What are you calling about?” etc.), the cheerful electronic voice promised to connect me to the right person. Instead, I got a recording telling me I had an estimated wait time of 45 minutes before I could talk to a human being.

I called twice more at different times over the next two days and got the same results. Then I realized how lucky I had been to get that far when the recording said, “All our lines are busy. Please try again later,” on my fourth call.

After several more fruitless phone calls during the following week, I checked the Social Security website for a solution. As I anticipated, there was no way to file a death benefit claim online, but it did mention that I could call my local SSA office instead of Washington.

I punched in a number, told the operator what I needed and was transferred to a phone that was picked up by a person. “Aha!” I thought. “I’m finally getting this done” No such luck.

The representative I spoke with offered his sincere condolences and took down my basic information. He then told me he was only a middle man – to actually file my claim, I still would have to talk to someone in Washington, but he could schedule a time for someone to call me. After doing some checking, he told me the earliest time I could receive a call would be mid-November, nearly six weeks away. I immediately agreed and wrote down the info on my calendar.

Before I hung up, I told the rep my wife and I had needed only short and simple phone calls to sign up for Social Security, so I couldn’t understand why there was such a convoluted process to collect a measly $255. He commiserated with me and said the rigmarole baffled him, too. “I’ve been here for 25 years and have never understood why it isn’t easier to get the death benefit,” he said.

Such are the ways of Rooseveltian bureaucracies.

When I finally received the phone call last Friday, it lasted about 10 minutes and was completely pointless. Instead of asking questions, the rep had me confirm information he obviously had in front of him. The only real question he asked was the city of my birth. When I gave the correct answer, I apparently proved I was not a lowlife trying to cheat Uncle Sam out of a small fortune.

A little background about the spousal death benefit is in order. It was included in the original Social Security Act of 1935, presumably to help grieving wives and husbands pay for their spouses’ burial expenses. The law capped the benefit at 3.5% of a person’s covered earnings, which would have been a maximum of about $315 when the law was adopted. Possibly nobody ever received such a large sum; in 1939, the average payment was $97 (roughly $1,709 in inflated-adjusted dollars).

Congress capped the lump-sum death benefit at $255 in 1954 ($2,388 today), and the limit was retained the last time the provision was overhauled in 1981 ($723 today).

In one respect, I’m glad the size of the benefit hasn’t changed in 63 years – it’s extremely rare when Congress puts on a display of frugality. On the other hand, I feel compassion for the poverty-stricken families who receive such a pittance when they have to bury a loved one. I know people who have spent more than $255 on a pet burial.

But despite the show of thriftiness, the Social Security death benefit – as it’s now constituted – wastes millions of taxpayers’ dollars a year.

It’s not the payouts that are wasteful, it’s the process. How many thousands of SSA employees spend millions of hours every year to take care of phone calls like mine? These are jobs that easily could be replaced by a web page (which probably would be more efficient, too).

Not only would streamlining the system save money, but it also would spare surviving spouses extra grief in their time of mourning.


By Timothy Imholt PhD

Carly Fiorina recently had a chance to put all the republican candidates on the defensive and missed it. She struck out.

How did this happen?

I was recently in the audience at an event hosted by Scott Brown with Carly Fiorina addressing a crowd of a few hundred individuals, some supporters, as well as some potential supporters, all hoping to be able to see her talk and perhaps ask a question or two of their own.

One of the hardest, so far undDSC01864iscussed problems, the next President will face is what to do about Social Security. I know the old joke, give it to old people. Ok, yes, let’s do that. Here is the problem. There never has been a social security trust fund. That thing is a myth.

The way the system works is that today’s retirees are paid by today’s workers. I do not begrudge people this program, as they paid into it when they worked. So please don’t say I’m against it. I think it is there, it exists, and as such we need to pay attention to the thing to make sure it is functional.

Here is the issue. The deductions coming off of every working American’s check going into the program fall around 10% short of what is currently being paid out. That is as of late 2015. That number, according to CBO projections, only gets worse every year from this point forward into the foreseeable future.

She got the question from an elderly gentleman who was concerned that the check may get cut, stop coming, or annual increases could become a thing of the past.

Admittedly this is a very hard problem to solve, but Carly had no idea what to do. It was like she didn’t see this one coming, although it has been in the news for a long time.

Her answer (I will paraphrase) rambled around and become a political non-answer. It was also strange to listen to it at something called the DSC01857No B.S. Backyard BBQ, but we will let that go.

She started by saying that American’s by a large margin now think that the Federal Government is corrupt. That percentage is so large she said that we can’t even start to dig into that problem until American’s faith is repaired.

Hey Carly, how about fixing problems as a way to restore that faith…just a thought.

Second, she said that she would sit down with American’s of all ages to see what they want and expect out of that program.

Ok, sure, that’s a nice way of saying something people want to hear while you figure out where to go next.

The final part of this answer was that there are a lot of proposed solutions out there about the Social Security shortfall filling these huge binders. She said that after restoring American’s faith in government, and asking them how much they want to get paid from the Social Security program (ok those were my words, she said ask American’s what they want out of the program, which in my mind amounts to how much do you expect to get paid.) Then she will sit down and figure out which of those plans best solves the problems.

Hey Carly, if those plans worked, and Congress would pass them, they would be in place. Also, ask Mitt Romney how well comments about binders full of something goes over with the voting public.

The remainder of this answer was some mention of zero based budgeting (which I think is a good idea). However, diving into a talk about the main governmental budget when talking about Social Security also seems like a bit of a ramble, but we shall leave that alone.

The only conclusion I can draw from these rambling answer is that Carly has no idea what to do about the shortfall in this program or any other for that matter. She couldn’t bring herself to say we need to cut this, or cut some other program and beef this one up. The only other option is raising taxes or the retirement age. But she avoided saying anything bad opting for a rambling non-answer.

Now, I will be the first to admit that a fix to this particular problem is not easy or painless. Mentioning that the fix will cause pain to voters will not make her popular so perhaps it was best to dodge the question I would have preferred someone who used to be a CEO to put it on the line. Say we have four potential things (maybe there are more these are just examples):

  • raise the retirement age
  • increase SSN taxes
  • means testing for payees
  • raise the retirement age

Let her, or any other candidate, come out and say some combination of those things will have to happen and then let the other primary candidates answer the “hey Carly Fiorina said” question from the press. Instead a golden opportunity was missed and we are still not talking about one of the larger problems facing the aging population.

Hey Carly (and everyone else in the field on both sides of the political spectrum), leaders have to face uncomfortable questions. Be a leader, get a plan on this subject, put it out and make it part of the discussion. Americans like leaders. The way you answered this question did not say much in my mind to your leadership skills when it comes to the difficult to cope with solutions. Not all answers will be popular if you are a good leader, that is just part of the deal. All candidates must understand that situation, and you as well as most of the others, so far are avoiding the toughest ones.

By Steve Eggleston

On Monday, a small passage in former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s upcoming book caused quite a stir. In the passage, Geithner details how the White House political team pressured him to say on the Sunday talk show circuit sometime in 2011 that Social Security wasn’t creating any deficits, when he, according to his book, knew they were in at least a minor way. By Wednesday, he was in full retreat mode.

Let’s take a look at the accounting. Social Security is actually two separate entities – the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) for the elderly, and the Disability Insurance (DI) for the working-age disabled. The DI trust fund has been running 12-month primary, or cash, deficits every month since the November 2004-October 2005 period, and running monthly primary deficits every month since May 2009. The OASI trust fund has been running 12-month primary deficits every month since the August 2009-July 2010 period, with most months since August 2009 seeing a primary deficit.

By January 2011, the combined (OASDI) 12-month primary deficit in Social Security had grown to $52.5 billion, not counting against the trust funds the first of two temporary FICA tax holidays, a full holiday on the employer portion of the FICA tax for qualified new hires between March and December 2010. The 12-month primary deficit bounced as high as $54.5 billion by May 2011 (not counting against the trust funds the second temporary FICA/SECA tax holiday, a 2 percentage-point reduction on the employee/self-employed portion of the FICA/SECA tax for all of 2011 and 2012), before dropping to $45.4 billion in December 2011.

The money to redeem the Treasury securities held by Social Security when there are primary deficits came, still comes, and will continue to come from the general fund. There has been no identifiable spending cuts tied to these expenses, so yes, they have added to the deficit. Specifically, they added to the deficit throughout 2011 when Geithner was “encouraged” to speak against his beliefs.

In fact, in the 63 full months that Barack Obama has been President thus far, between February 2009 and April 2014, the two Social Security programs have added $219 billion to the deficit…not counting the effects of the two temporary FICA/SECA tax holidays against them.

Two provisions of the holidays mean that the rather substantial costs of the holidays, especially the 2-year employee/self-employed holiday, also added to the deficit. The first is that the trust funds were made whole from the general fund as though the holidays did not exist. The second is that there was no “PAYGO” provision applied to any part of the two holidays. Using estimates from Social Security’s Office of the Chief Actuary, the cost of the holidays was approximately $2.4 billion in 2010, $102 billion in 2011, and a grand total of $224 billion between April 2010 and last month – all additions to the deficit.

Add the $219 billion in Social Security primary deficits under Obama’s watch and the $224 billion in the temporary FICA/SECA tax holidays costs, and Social Security has added $443 billion to the deficit during the Obama Presidency. That would qualify as significant in any other era – the 63 months ending in January 2009 saw a $1.923 trillion cumulative deficit. Unfortunately, Obama has added $5.687 trillion in deficits since he took office.

Mordcha: Why should I break my head about the outside world. Let the outside world break it’s own head!

Tevye: He’s right, as the good book says: ‘If you spit in the air it lands in your face.’

Perchik: Nonsense you can’t close your eyes to what’s happening in the world

Tevye: He’s Right

Avram: He’s right, and he’s right? They can’t both be right.

Tevye: You know… you are also right

There is a lot of fuss about Perry’s remarks about Social Security being a Ponzi scheme

in Des Moines, when a reporter asked about the suggestion that his campaign was backing off some positions in the staunch states-rights book, Perry said, “I haven’t backed off anything in my book. So read the book again and get it right.”

And the left reacts with either ‘s laughs, snark, insults or fear

So who’s right, Perry and the Right or the left? If you look at the question with a smart eye it’s clear who is right.

Rick Santorum!

Why, because Santorum has made the argument that many of our fiscal issues have their origin in social changes that have been harmful to our nation.

The reason Social Security is in big trouble is we don’t have enough workers to support the retirees. Well, a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion, because one in three pregnancies end in abortion.

And it’s not just the culture of Abortion, it’s the culture of birth control and of Children as a burden vs a blessing.

When Social Security was designed the culture of the nation was solidly Judeo-Christian. If you have a culture where large families are celebrated and encouraged then Social Security goes from Ponsi scheme to a sustainable program for centuries. As the population continues to increase the technology does as well and is able to support it. As Stacy McCain pointed out:

In 1957, at the peak of the Baby Boom, the U.S. total fertility rate (TFR) – the average number of births per woman, over the course of her lifetime, based on annual rates — reached 3.74. As any student of statistics should see, this number meant that the typical American woman was far more likely to have four children than to have only three.

Or for every childless woman out there in the US you could find a mother of 6 or more out there.

However with the 60’s “do what you want” culture taking root with it culmination of a culture of death where presidential candidates argue their daughters shouldn’t be “punished with children” or that Pregnancy is treated as a disease, suddenly you don’t have the population to sustain a program like Social Security nor as Europe is finding out a population to sustain the cultural norms like free speech. As Pundit put it:

So this is what is at the bottom of the pro-choice argument — they are “disgusted” by pregnancy and birth? I thought it was supposed to be the crazy fundamentalists that hated the human body and feared sex. How sick do you have to be to be revolted by the process that brings new life, that brought your life, into being?

Or as Stacy McCain put it: Anti-science!

Anti-natalist sentiments are a natural byproduct of the Contraceptive Culture, which propagates the belief that sex without pregnancy is normal, and where pregnancy is considered a rare medical anomaly.

This way of thinking — nowadays so common that we don’t even recognize it as an ideological phenomenon — is an inversion of nature.

From a strictly biological point of view, procreation is the only purpose of sex. People who like to condemn conservatives as being “anti-science” because we don’t go along with the global-warming crusade ought to be asked to explain why they are so hostile to the scientific purpose of sex, i.e., making babies.

One of the advantages that comes with age is the ability to see how things work over generations. As a person interested in history since childhood I’ve had the incredible luck to be born at a time where not only massive changes were taking place but access to information for the ordinary man was almost unprecedented in history both in terms of books and electronics. Looking at the evidence of history, current events and my own eyes over the years I must conclude that the adoption of the 60’s culture of hedonism and narcissism by our society has been the cause of the greatest self-inflicted hemorrhage of blood and treasure the country has ever seen since the Civil War.

Bottom line, Social Security in the culture it was designed for was not a Ponzi scheme, but the cultural changes that took place in the sixties have made it into one. Perry argument treats the symptom, which is important, but Santorum argument address the cause, that is better.

Update: Smitty weighs in

The interesting question raised by the Politico article is whether the Boomers are sufficiently enslaved by entitlements. Are they indoctrinated into beliefs about ‘rights’ to Social Security and Medicare that have become velvet handcuffs over time, so that the Boomers can be manipulated into turning against a candidate like a Perry, or a Cain, or a Santorum, who has the courage to speak the truth? I wish that ideas of liberty and American Exceptionalism were sufficiently strong to make that a silly question, but they are not.

O’Rourke famously noted that 2010 was not an election; it was a restraining order. 2012, therefore, will be liberty on trial, prosecuted by a Progressive werewolf in bespoke and Gucchis. Will conservatives rally around a McCotter, or even Palin? Or will they be deceived and support Romney, whose hair is perfect?

That depends on which side of the cultural divide they fall on.