Thursday, January 24, 2013

From Each to Each

Posted by Kim Klein

I got a several comments about my Tuesday blog post on Social Security. I want to share some of them. I also think the volume and content of the comments shows how many of us are thinking about issues of the role of government in helping take care of people.

A very close friend suggested the following reading for those who are interested in understanding why it is virtually impossible for Social Security to go bankrupt. Social Security will be here for all of us Baby Boomers and everyone who comes after us unless Congress seriously messes with it. These articles are well written and easy to understand and they also explain Social Security in more detail than I did:

Another person thought, rightly, that I should be clearer that Social Security is not a pension or retirement plan but rather a universal insurance program that helps protects current and retired workers and their families. Although I referred to the money I had “put in”, and the money I will “get out,” that is not really an accurate way to depict Social Security. She is right. Social Security is a common good program, built around one of the simplest premises of a commons society, “From each according to their ability to each according to their need.”

The phrase above is attributed to Karl Marx, who did use it, but the concept actually comes from the Bible. The early Christians lived communally. The Acts of the Apostles , Ch. 4, 34-35 says, “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them and brought the money from the sales to the Apostles and it was distributed to each as any had need.” They were committed to creating a community described in Exodus, the second book of the Torah, “The person who had much did not have too much and the person who had little did not have too little. ” Exodus 16:18

“From each according to their ability” is not only a description of sharing financial assets, but also a description of sharing what we are good at and having others share what they are good at with us. I am a good teacher. I am a decent writer. I am disciplined about giving away a percentage of my income. I am not as good about exercising and I am not frugal or thrifty. In my work, I play to my strengths. In turn, I seek out accountants, plumbers, economists, designers and so on to help me with things I am not good at.

When Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935 he said "We can never insure one- hundred percent of the population against one-hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life. But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his (sic) family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age. This law, too, represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built, but is by no means
complete.... ”

“From each” and “ to each” is far from complete and it is up to us to continue to create public structures which expand the reach of the successful social programs already in place. To do so will require all our gifts and talents, as well as a willingness to be helped and supported by others. But above all it requires a belief that we are all in this together, or as the late Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better when we all do better.”

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