Are People Better Off Without Social Security?

The following is a transcript from a C-SPAN2 interview of author Robert Higgs. Here’s the link to the video:

Question #1: You’re always bashing the role of government. My question is – Do you receive social security? And would you be willing to give that check back to the government since that comes from the government?

RH: I’m not on social security but I would devoutly wish I’d never been made eligible for it for that matter, because if I had instead been able to keep the money that was taxed away from me for social security taxes, I would’ve been able to invest in a way that left me much better off than I will ever be than if I take the social security pension. So, of course I’d be willing to go back and start when I entered the labor market in 1958 and say, “I want to opt out of social security from here on out.” I would’ve been delighted to do that.

As I said before, if you put people in a position where: 1) you cannot opt out and 2) where they’re made reliant on government payments, then you’ve tilted the game. You’ve put them in a position where now they would be in real difficulty if they were simply to give up what they relied on receiving for an entire lifetime. But that’s a very different matter from saying, “Would the world have been better off if we never had social security?” It would’ve been vastly better off.

I edited a journal and I had an article a few issues back by Professor Browning at Texas A&M, and it’s an analysis of the social security system, and Browning showed in a way that’s absolutely irrefutable how much better off virtually everyone would’ve been if they had never been forced into our social security system.

Question #2: You seem to enjoy the benefits of the government and the country, but at the same time you want to bite the hand that feeds you. Since you’re not on social security, when you become eligible, will you take it? Would you go as far as to not drive on public roads that were built by the government? And would you go as far as to give back your land that you own back to the Native Americans who were here before the government seized their property? Where does this thing end? It seems like a very reptilian type of mentality.

RH: Well as I’ve said before, once you live in a world that’s pervated by government influences, where the government has built almost all the roads, where the government has taken money from people, including from me since 1958 for social security taxes — to ask people at that point to forswear the use, or the benefit that was promised them an exchange for their having paid taxes and obeyed rules for an entire lifetime is not exactly a good test of anyone’s sincerity, and certainly not a good test of his reptilianism.

If we had a starting point again, and we could say — let’s start here and allow people to manage their own affairs voluntarily, peacefully and cooperatively and work on that basis — yes, certainly, I would want to start there. It’s not an option for us at this point to start there. We can’t efface a world that has been shaped and damaged and directed for centuries by government intrusion that ought never to have occured. So, here’s where we find ourselves — we find ourselves in a cesspool, and we can swim in the contents of that cesspool or we can sink. If someone wants to ask me to sink because I find myself in a cesspool, I can only say I think that’s an unreasonable request. I’m going to try and stay afloat in this world. I don’t like the shape it’s been put in, but I didn’t put it in this shape. I didn’t take anything from Native Americans. So I don’t know if there’s a particular Native American person to whom I committed an injustice.

This is a tricky issue. If you go back in history, you find that everybody’s ancestors were abused and subjected to robbery and violence at some point. Does that mean we’re all in the debt of everybody everywhere? This is a very easy and cheap way of thinking about the course of history and it doesn’t really work. When we wrong someone, there’s a possibility of restitution. But there’s no possibility for me to make restitution for the people who were slain at Wounded Knee by the U.S. Army. I can’t give them their lives back. But at the same time we need to recognize that I didn’t take their lives either. I’m not responsible for what generations before me did, and they did a great deal of wrong. But right now the generation that I’m a part of is doing a great deal of wrong, and for that I can raise my voice. I can denounce injustice. I can try to move the world at a better direction. I can’t take responsibility for every historical wrong ever done.


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