The “common-good” is commonly invoked as a justification for all kinds of confiscatory taxation and subsequent government programs. But in what sense is any program actually working for the “common good?” Wouldn’t making such a claim as a defense of a program require at least two things to be defined? First is, what the heck is the common good anyway? Second, (I suppose this is a subsidiary thought to the first) is who ought to be considered part of the common good.
I aim to keep this post short, so I will leave the philosophy of the above questions for later posts. For now, let’s think about one program that is often invoked in the name of the common good – social security. A simplification of the way the program works is that almost every worker “contributes” a good portion of their paycheck to the government over their entire working lives, those funds are used to directly transfer to current retirees, and the hope is that when you get old and retire, someone will have a portion of their paychecks “contributed” to you.
But reflect on this process in the name of the “common good.” The evidence is very strong that the number one “killer” in America is poverty. In other words, life expectancy among individuals in the lower income categories is far lower than life expectancy among the higher (many thanks to the person that can find me the source data for this – I check US Vital Statistics but I do not see them there). The last I looked was something like a 7-10 year difference in life expectancy from the bottom quintile of the income distribution to the top quintile. Thus, many more poor people than non-poor people will die before they receive a dime of “their” social security money. Think about this – every single dollar taken from them while they were working (at low paying jobs, or insecure but higher paying jobs) will have been taken from them and given to people much better off from them (in two ways, to the richer and the ones who are healthier). Worse yet, not even a dime of that would be available to family members through bequests (so much for the notion that you are “entitled” to an “entitlement.”
The social security actuaries have actually looked at this trend by race and have found that if you take black males and white males who have paid the same exact amount in social security taxes in their lives, that black males receive only 50% of what whites do in retirement.
So, you know, we have programs like social security to benefit “everyone” and especially those who are worst off and most in need of it. Are these American poor and blacks part of those enjoying or pursuing the “common good?” Or are they the victims of the common good?
Here is the last installment of the series.