Published March 28, 2012
The last thing I want to do is give any ammunition to those who favor Obamacare, because I don’t like it. But there’s one chink in the armor of those who claim that the federal government has never forced Americans to buy a product before: Social Security.
If it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to force people to buy insurance, why isn't it unconstitutional for the federal government to force us to buy a lousy pension plan? The immediate response is that Social Security is not a product. But tell that to a money manager who makes his living selling retirement plans!
I realize that this whole argument could muddy some already very muddy waters. But if we’re questioning the fundamental role that the federal government plays in forcing us to do things that we don’t want to do, maybe it’s time to reexamine ways in which the federal government has expanded its reach too far into our private lives.
Social Security, like a lot of federal programs, has been going through a long period of creeping expansion ever since it was introduced in the 1930s. The biggest expansion was the addition of medical care to its coverage in the 1960s, during LBJ’s “Great Society” period.
That era of massive spending and a huge increase in the size and scope of the federal government turned the vibrant 1960s into the limits-to-growth 1970s doldrums. It wasn’t until the Reagan Revolution of the ‘80s when we began to turn things around. And that period of growth and renewed optimism extended even into Democrat Bill Clinton’s presidency, when he declared (far too prematurely) that the “era of big government is over.”
But always lurking in the shadows is the pull of big government and its control-freak advocates. And they’re not limited to one political party. One looks at the nanny state policies of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or the huge expansion of Medicare under George W. Bush to realize that there’s enough blame for the expansion of big government to go around.
Still, there’s really nothing comparable to the massive expansion of big government that we’ve seen under President Obama. And Obamacare is the pinnacle of that ideology.
Beyond the economic arguments against it, there is the fundamental notion of how far the federal government can go in dictating what decisions we can make in our private lives. The community we live in does demand certain restraints to our behavior. But it should not demand subservience to it -- not least of all because the bureaucrat “representing” the so-called well being of the community becomes a dictator.
We’ve already seen examples of that happening with Obamacare, when, for example, one, non-elected representative of the federal government demands that self-insured religious institutions must violate their faith in order to provide “medical services” to the community. This is precisely the kind of dictate that our founders designed the Constitution to prevent, dictates that contradict one’s faith.
But back to our first point about Social Security. Is it Constitutional to force individuals to buy into a federal pension plan? Well as it turns out that debate already played out in front of the Supreme Court in 1937, two years after Social Security was introduced to the nation. In Helvering v. Davis, the Supreme’s decided that Social Security was not a contributory insurance program, and that a tax on employers to pay for Social Security was constitutional. But would you buy into Social Security if the federal government didn’t force you to? Some might. But others might look at the meager returns of Social Security compared to most pension plans and opt for something else.
Why can’t we have a choice? Because, like Obamacare, Social Security would be unsustainable if people had the choice to opt out of it. And even though the Supreme Court once ruled that the federal mandate requiring us to buy a government retirement plan is Constitutional, that decision may be tested depending on how the Supreme Court rules on Obamacare. Justice Samuel Alito spoke critically of Obamacare on Tuesday, complaining that it “forces young, healthy people to subsidize services that will be received by somebody else.” Exactly the same could be said today about Social Security.