The Future in Black and White and Bold

I received my Social Security statement in the mail sometime last week.

Yay Social Security Statement!

I have a collection of these things, in a folder that I keep in a big plastic box, and have kept them since they started mysteriously showing up in the mid-1990s. I think I recall something about the Clinton Regime wanting to make people more aware how important Social Security is, to connect them to their “benefits” and therefore invest them in the continued existence of the program. Or somesuch.

I was a long time ago.

The review of my earnings for the last 20 years — 20 years — is not that impressive. While I’ve worked enough to qualify for the spectrum of benefits that Social Security provides (retirement, disability, survivors payments, medicare), I’m only eligible for about $900 should I earn no more and retire at 62. That would be $1,391 at at 67 and $1,766 at 70! I think I’ll stop working right now and simply sit and wait right here until I can apply — in 2029. Why work anymore if I don’t have to?

But let’s look at the fine print. Actually, it’s not fine print, it’s in bold at the bottom of page two:

Your estimated benefits are based on current law. Congress has made changes to the law in the past and can do so again at any time. The law governing benefit amounts may change because, by 2041, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 74 percent of scheduled benefits.

Rummaging through my previous statements… umm, statement. It turns out I was not so fastidious in saving them, and only have the 2002 mailing to keep me company … we find no such statement in bold, or italics, or underlined, at the bottom of page two.

But why is 2041, when payroll taxes will meet only 74% of Social Security’s obligations? Why 74%? Why is that “the magic figure?” Is it frightening enough yet far enough away? Doom but not tomorrow? If I live that long, I will turn 74 that year (I have many very long-lived relatives and ancestors who were active and ornery well into their 90s). What is that paragraph at the bottom of page two designed to elicit in me? How am I supposed to react to that information?

No doubt Congress will change the law a time or two somewhere between here and there. Actually, I fully expect the United States government to be broke by then (there may not even be a United States of America by then, either), and utterly incapable of keeping the lights on, much less paying me $1,700 per month. So, I expect to have to work at something the rest of my life. Or get rich somewhere between here and there. And given I am getting ready to enter the ministry, that is unlikely.

I have no problem with risk-sharing, so long as it is cooperative. I like the idea of mutual societies (my insurance company/bank is a mutual society), of some folks carrying others when they cannot carry themselves. I just don’t think a kind, caring, compassionate and decent society can be built at gun-point. I like the promises of Social Democracy, I really truly do. But I also understand that Social Democracy is a lie, for it is based on the very real threat of state violence for those who do not wish to belong. No truly decent human society can be created on the ever-present threat of violence.

So, how do you prepare for the future? I am a pessimist. In fact, I am a doom-and-gloom pessimist, and things will probably not get as bad I think they will. You could do worse than to have some arable land owned free and clear (or rented), a decent and livable home, honest work, a water right (or something similar), a good collection of non-hybrid seeds, and association with a community of like-minded, like-souled folks who can help you (and who you can help). At best you can create or be a part of a nice, decent community; at worst you will have a place to hole up in when the world falls down around you. (I told you I am a pessimist…)

My wife and I do not live like this. Yet. But we will.