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A Personal Look at Social Security Reform

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When I was younger, I was liberal. A large part of my “conversion” involved directly encountering liberal policies. A previous post discussed my experience on Medicaid, and explains how it evolved into my opposition to state-run healthcare.

My experience with the bureaucracy of the Social Security Administration showed me how the government needs to get out of another business: retirement.

When I was sixteen, my mother died. She was my primary caretaker, and I was entitled to survivors benefits. The first year after she died there was no-one to write the checks to (I had no legal guardian). When my aunt, my mother’s sister, took guardianship over me when I was 17, all of the back-checks were written to her, despite the fact that she was not responsible for me during that first year. When I moved into her apartment, she assured me that she would deposit the checks  in a separate bank account and only withdraw $200 a month to cover increased food costs.

When the checks stopped the day I graduated high school, my aunt kicked me out of her apartment literally onto the streets of New York City, with everything I owned in black garbage bags. She informed me that she had decided to keep all of the money that she had received both for the year I was not living with her and the year that I was. This amounted to about $15,000. As far as I was concerned, it had just vanished.

What was my recourse? I went to the offices of the Social Security Administration to get my money back. That was my first mistake, thinking that this money was mine. I waited for three hours to speak to a representative. I do not mock and I do not kid: He was mentally handicapped. He would be my “case worker”.

He took my story down in chicken scratch, as he could not use a computer. He asked me to call him back so that he could update me after he spoke to his superiors. I called half a dozen times over the next month, but never received a call back. I decided to go down to their offices again. And I waited another three hours. After I finally was able to see my case worker, he informed me that his superiors had decided that my aunt had committed fraud and an investigation would be launched.

Three times agents visited her apartment. All three times she did not answer the door. After every planned visit, I went to the Social Security offices and waited for two-three hours to hear what had transpired. I was informed after the third failed visit that the investigation would then be closed. After I demanded to speak to the agents in charge, I was told they would give it one last attempt. On the forth attempt they were informed by the building owner that my aunt and her husband had moved to Maryland. She was “out of their reach” now. This time the case was officially closed.

The money that my mother had been forced to pay into this “plan” her entire life disappeared into the bank account of a selfish and vindictive sister. And her only child, and only survivor, was left with no legal recourse. If these were private funds, they would have been deposited with my trust fund, which still sits safely in a bank account in upstate New York. If these were private funds I would have been entitled to the total amount that my mother paid into the system over the course of her life, as opposed to the arbitrary number that the Social Security Administration chose after she died. If she died after my high school graduation, I never would’ve seen a dime of what she paid into the system at all.

Even as a liberal teenager, a sense of outrage permeated my perception of Social Security after this experience. The government forced my mother to give them money over the course of her entire career, immediately deducted from her paycheck. It was deducted during months where we had nothing to eat but macaroni and cheese and we were sleeping in the same bed because my mother couldn’t afford to buy me my own. The government knew better than my mother about how to take care of her financial matters. The government would take care of her when she retired or after she died.

They did a great job, right?

Written by bethanyshondark

February 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

14 Responses

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  1. Private trusts are sometimes also looted by dishonest relatives!


    February 20, 2011 at 6:28 pm

  2. Yes, Mark, that’s true. But it is much more difficult and you can call the cops on someone who does it. With Social Security, complaints must be handled by the SS Admin which, like any bureaucratic organization, is far more concerned with writing and keeping policies than in fixing problems.


    February 21, 2011 at 10:16 am

  3. The government has no motivation do give a damn about you, “social security” — a most ironicly named department — least of all. It has no competition; you can not take your business elsewhere; it is the essence of tyranny enacted by politicians seeking to buy votes to get it passed and continue a dependency upon it to garner votes from those who made no or few plans of their own during their working careers.

    I grew up in a state and city run by proponents of this and other ‘social welfare’ programs for generations. I grew up, sadly, on welfare. Time and time again, my mother tried to get off welfare but, unable to dispense with it totally all at once, we were told, literally, “stop working or we cut you off entirely” — no match-up-to, no work-your-way-out, nothing but a pitcher-plant slippery-wall of ‘stay dependent’ because the state and politicians had a motivation to get and keep high welfare numbers. (This approach was reversed under, of all people, Clinton, and has now been reset to the same idiocy by the current Obama administration)

    I’ve seen first-hand how liberals work and the kind of society it creates. It grated against the rational thought of a child — no one taught me politics or what to think while growing up, I was delightfully able to just observe and make up my own mind: seeing liberalism in action showed me the soul-crushing folly of their approach, both in terms of ‘fixing problems’ and in ‘trusting the government to do it’

    A company that can be sued has an incentive to do right; a company that is in competition with other companies has an incentive to do right, or lose business; a government agency has no incentive, none at all. Handing over something like your retirement or health care to such an entity is absurd, foolish, and idiotic. Anyone doing so should be given an exam to determine if they are a danger to themselves or others.


    February 21, 2011 at 1:10 pm

  4. Wow, I’m so sorry. I’m with you, the government has no business being in business.


    February 23, 2011 at 10:35 pm

  5. Bethany, that is a tough story. I have never had much in the way of misconceptions that any of the money I am paying in to the Social Security system will be there when I retire. However, a recent similar experience made me dislike Social Security even more.

    My father died back in October. He was just two months away from retiring. After working for over 50 years and paying into the system, we received a grand total of…$255, the current survivor benefit. Who knows how many thousands of dollars he paid in, just to disappear down the bottomless pit that is the Federal entitlement system.


    February 23, 2011 at 10:59 pm

  6. I hope your Aunt knows that she may have escaped earthly justice, but she most certainly will not escape God’s. Praise God, REAL family has nothing to do with blood relation!

    I’m so very sorry not only for the loss of your Mother, but for the complete abandonment by people who were supposed to care about you (your Aunt & Uncle) and a Gov’t that scammed you & millions of others via the biggest ponzi scheme EVER (SSI).

    Lastly, Bethany you are a testament to perseverance & grace. You’ve accomplished goals many only dream of, with the least of resources & support. It’s truly miraculous! God is so very good!

    Ally Garner

    February 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm

  7. I pray daily you exit your racist right-wing views and come back to the light. No true Jew is right-wing.

    Hotel name contains

    March 19, 2011 at 8:10 pm

  8. Great stuff, Bethany, keep writing

    Jack Coleman

    May 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm

  9. Bethany,
    Wow, after all that it seems like you hold no ill toward your Aunt, You must have felt all alone. And no other family to help. How do we retire a 70 yr. old Ponzi scheme SSA? Before SS Churches/Synagogs and family extended a hand. I believe you are stronger through this, even though extremely painful. As writing I’m reminded of a quote,
    “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
    — Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
    I think you are a beautiful person….Bethany, thank you for sharing! Barchot ve tefilliot barei lev bitacohn! ).

    Ed McGuire

    August 30, 2011 at 2:47 pm

  10. Bethany,

    I tried to engage you on Twitter but it doesn’t appear that you respond to anyone except those who agree with you there.

    I read every book Ayn Rand wrote, some of them twice, in my twenties. I then read everything by Leonard Peikoff and Nathaniel Branden. And I absolutely bought Objectivism for a long time. I once had an interesting conversation with a wealthy business man, the owner of the company my husband worked for, where we debated Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism. When I look back on it now it’s pretty funny to think that he was arguing against Objectivism and I was arguing for it given our positions in life.

    I also wanted to acknowledge that I too recognize how poorly government-run entities function in most cases. I won’t bother to tell you about the absurd encounters I recently had at the DMV.

    I now consider myself moderate in politics, and I suppose left-leaning socially. Many things have changed the way I think about these things. First was the study of neuroscience and realizing that the amount of free will we think we have is an illusion. You pointed this out in another post, but you didn’t carry the thinking far enough. Your conclusion seems to be that some people are just “born better” and we need to accept a survival of the fittest mentality.

    The major flaw with this thinking is that which genes are expressed and brain development are still determined after birth. For example, children’s brains develop radically differently when they grow up in a context of extreme poverty when coupled WITH instability (abuse, violent neighborhood, etc.) and NOT mediated by an external stabilizing factor. And I can’t in good conscience accept that we do nothing for these populations and still claim that the U.S. is a country of equal opportunity.

    Those who call out the exceptions to the rule, i.e. people who pull themselves up out of the “ghetto” to go on and be successful, these are exceptions for a reason and when investigated illuminate that the child was either, yes, born with an exceptional attitude, OR (and more importantly) had someone or something in their lives that helped stabilize the situation enough that the brain had a chance to develop higher executive functioning.

    I could go on citing new research from behavioral economics as well, but the main point that I want to make is that extreme ideologies on either side of the spectrum have one fatal flaw – they are built on a premise of how people “ought” to behave rather than how they ACTUALLY behave. There is no utopia, and so long as people hold tightly to their ideologies on either side, the system crumbles under our feet.


    October 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm

  11. What a heartbreaking story, thank you for sharing.Your story does demonstrate yet another example where liberal policies have unintended consequences. One segment of the population that subsidizes social security benefits of others — those who die at a young age. Incidentally, statistics show that life expectancy is shorter for the poor.

    1st Generation American

    October 6, 2011 at 8:31 pm

  12. A lot of the misconception about Social Security could be helped by using an antiquated term for the same type of system. Many many decades ago, police, firefighters, some churches and other private groups had “widows and orphans” funds. People donated, not because some day they or their loved ones might be widows or orphans, but to help those who already were. That was the ideal when SS was set up. It wasn’t a “socialist” idea – it was a charity. ANY type of bureaucracy, no matter which “side” is running it, becomes inefficient and is shackled by legalities. It’s tragically telling that you chose to relegate your aunt’s disgusting behaviour to a secondary player, instead demonizing an entire system that had better intentions than she. You clearly can’t in good conscience dismiss her crime entirely, and yet you hold someone else more responsible than she. Outer politics are easier to handle than inner politics.

    : basia (@basia)

    October 17, 2011 at 11:41 am

  13. The great thing about Twitter is discovering people who validate the whole idea of the Internet. I started by following a few people a friend followed, then others followed by those they followed, and so on. Now I’ve discovered you via Evan Pokroy. It’s hard to overstate how impressed I am by people who think for themselves, and ‘wake up’ as it were. I’ve always believed that most of what is considered ‘Conservative’ is just plain old self-evident truth. While I am not surprised at impressionable youngsters falling for Liberal ideology, I remain totally at a loss to explain why so many apparently intelligent people over 30 (or 40 or 50) continue to fiercely cling to it with such a death grip, but that point has been made by others and needs no rehashing by me.

    All I can say is ‘keep writing’, you’re doing humanity an excellent service.


    October 27, 2011 at 10:04 pm

  14. That is only half of it. Your mother’s salary was reduced by an amount roughly equivalent to the employer’s share of Social Security. And while technically they pay, because it is part of the calculus they make on what total compensation will be, the worker’s salary is reduced commensurately. What we are really paying for Social Security is 12.4%. Do you think you will get that back in your retirement years? In addition to not paying you back everything you saved, they add insult to injury by redistributing YOUR retirement to other beneficiaries. Finally, because there is no actual saving done in Social Security, the growing number of beneficiaries to taxpayers will require that benefits are reduced and/or taxes increased. It is and always has fit the complete definition of a classic Ponzi scheme. Social Security creates intergenerational division by forcing current workers to support retirees with money they know they will never get back. Just another way the Left has sought to divide and conquer our society and engender ultimate financial collapse. Charming folks the leftists.

    James Simpson

    January 3, 2012 at 11:00 pm

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