The Three-Axis Model and Social Security

A while back, John Goodman wrote,

No one questions why we provide help to people who are sick or disabled. Or why we provide benefits to people who are temporarily out of work and looking for a job. But why subsidize people who want to play golf?

The short answer is that the elderly are treated as an oppressed class. They receive “senior discounts,” for example. (To be fair, in some cases this is price discrimination, intended to maximize revenue.)

From a conservative point of view, Social Security undermines the incentive to work, and not just for seniors. It is funded by the payroll tax. It also undermines the incentive to save, because people count on Social Security instead. Thus, Social Security goes against an important value for civilization–deferred gratification.

Are the elderly today truly an oppressed class? I think it would be hard to argue that case. However, the same might be said for many of the oppressed classes as defined by the progressive model. All unionized workers, including public-sector workers making more than the median income? All women?

One issue that I have not addressed in the oppressor-oppressed axis is how these classes come to be defined.

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11 Responses to The Three-Axis Model and Social Security

  1. Philip says:

    Social Security is consistently defended as a form of social insurance. Insurance is not about oppression at all–it is about planning for risks. I have no idea where insurance fits into your trichotomy, but I think you’ve been too quick on the draw here. The arguments for keeping universal social security are not, in fact, about oppression.

    • Arnold Kling says:

      I agree that Social Security is framed as “insurance.” But when changes are proposed, they are attacked as “throwing grandma out of the wheelchair.” So there is also a subtext of oppressor-oppressed

  2. F. Lynx Pardinus says:

    Same boat as Philip, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a progressive argue “we need Social Security because the elderly are an oppressed class.” They could be making that argument without me hearing about it, but I’d like to see more evidence.

  3. Rohan says:

    The elderly are an oppressed class. They are “oppressed” by youth. It’s not traditional oppression. But rules meant for healthy, young working people would disproportionately hurt the elderly.

    Imo, Arnold Kling’s “oppressor-oppressed” naming convention is slightly wrong, and has excessive negative connotations. I think it’s closer to conflict theory, where everything is two groups who’s needs or desires are in opposition to each other. One group is weaker than the other group, and that group is the one which deserves aid. So for social security, the two groups in conflict are the elderly and the young. The elderly are the weaker group, and thus power/wealth should be transferred from the young to the elderly to help them.

  4. MikeP says:

    The elderly are the weaker group, and thus power/wealth should be transferred from the young to the elderly to help them.

    15% of every dollar earned by the poorest age cohort is sent straight to the richest age cohort, regardless of each individual recipient’s need. This is plainly immoral.

    But there is very little chance this will change in the predictable future. The elderly oppress the daylights out of the young through the ballot box.

  5. Lord says:

    In the way that conservatives view the military, the religious, and themselves, as oppressed? That seems much more accurate than referring to the elderly as oppressed. The view of the elderly is much more that they earned it. This is mostly true of Social Security though less so of Medicare. This is an attempt to squeeze too much into one word.

  6. Jeff says:

    The elderly are a disadvantaged rather than an out and out oppressed group. They’re disadvantaged vis a vis younger workers by the ravages of time, as well as by the fact that employers tend to favor younger workers for a variety of reasons, which reduces the earnings potential of elderly people.

    Perhaps that’s a better label for the progressive axis: advantaged vs disadvantaged groups. I see progressives use that terminology quite a bit. And all the jabbering that spills out of sociology departments about “privilege” isn’t about one group really oppressing another, it’s one group having advantages (economic, educational, political, social capital, etc) over another.

    • MikeP says:

      …the fact that employers tend to favor younger workers for a variety of reasons…

      Citation needed.

      The peak earning years are in one’s 50’s. The only reason the peak median income is not in the 60’s is because the most valuable workers retire early — because they can.

      Social Security and Medicare are designed as they are with millionaires getting transfers from the young and poor solely so the actually poor elderly can pretend they are not on welfare. It’s abominable.

  7. Floccina says:

    So why does SS give more money to those who earned more, who are generally more capable and less in need. The only thing that I can come up with that SS is sort of a scam structured to fool the tax payers.

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