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Seductive Simplicity

I've always been suspicious of a solution to a problem that seems too easy. Problems are seldom simple -- if they were, they wouldn't be problems. But for some time I've wrestled with two such elegantly simple proposed solutions, and I can't find the flaws in them. So I figured I'd toss them out to the readers, and let you point out where I'm being clueless.

1) In Robert Heinlein's Expanded Universe, he includes a short story where a new president "solves" a bunch of nettling issues. The one that always stuck with me was the issue of nuclear waste.

Heinlein cites the example of petroleum -- one of the most valuable and versatile substances in the world. In ancient Roman times, they used it as a minor medicine, but mostly just wasted it. Today, we'd kill for what they disposed of, and even today most of it we simply burn it, turning it into toxic pollution.

Similarly, who knows what use future generations would find for what we call nuclear waste? Heinlein suggests mixing it into some form of concrete, making bricks out of it, and stacking it in the middle of the desert. And try as I might, I can't see any insurmountable problems with this solution.

The other is the current fight over social security. Howie Carr is a talk-show host, columnist, and general gadfly around Boston. He's in his early 50's, and whenever the subject of Social Security comes up, he confidently says he'll never see a dime of it. He puts forth the following offer: he will waive any and all future Social Security benefits in exchange for an end to withholding. In other words, the Social Security Administration can keep every penny they've taken from him in over 30 years if they'll only stop taking any more of his money.

And I'm just libertarian enough to wonder why he can't do that. I'm sure he's paid plenty into the system, and quite possibly more than he'll ever recoup, so why not?

OK, now I'll just sit back and wait to see how fast these two get shot down.


Comments (18)

I'll waive all my social se... (Below threshold)

I'll waive all my social security benefits in exchange for no more withholdings, too. Of course, I'm 23... so I'll probably not get any social security benefits AND have the honor of withholdings, too. Joy. I once did the calculations of how nice a nest egg I could have by the time I become eligible for social security benefits, assuming I never get a raise, just invest both halves of my SS "contributions." It would be quite nice. And I've gotten a nice raise since then. I'd rather not do the calculation again. It'd just be depressing.

I'm 21, and with Nate on th... (Below threshold)

I'm 21, and with Nate on this one

Here are the problems, as I... (Below threshold)

Here are the problems, as I see them (feel free to argue with me):

Problem #1: Stacking "nuclear bricks" in the desert probably isn't a very good idea since al Queda would probably feel emboldened to liberate a few and put them into some Ryder trucks. I'd recommend, instead, taking these bricks, throwing in some toxic morter, and building a very tall wall running roughly next to, and the length of, the Rio Grand. Kill two birds with one stone that way.

Problem #2: Howie Carr makes 800 large a year. Of COURSE that fat bastard doesn't want to pay his mother's social security. Now screw!

Here's another unsolveable you can chew on:

How come every worker in the United States doesn't pay income taxes? A vast majority of wage earners under $40,000 per year pay no taxes at all (in fact, many receive a check from the government due to the earned income tax credit). Why is that?

I believe that what is paid... (Below threshold)

I believe that what is paid into SS right now goes right out the door to current recipients. Therefore, they need people to keep paying into it so they can keep on making payments. There is no big pool of money just waiting for you when you retire (pah, government hanging onto a pool of money?!).

As for the radioactive stuff, I just don't know why government doesn't just give NASA or whoever a huge wad of cash (which would be relatively small in government terms) to come up with an alternative for many forms of power (particular for cars). Then, when the answer is found, license the technology to the world with the money going back to the government. It's not like we don't already spend gobs of money to try and determine useless stuff already (i.e. whether an apple feels pain if you scream at it).

" ...I'd recommend, instead... (Below threshold)
Governor Breck:

" ...I'd recommend, instead, taking these bricks, throwing in some toxic morter, and building a very tall wall running roughly next to, and the length of, the Rio Grand. Kill two birds with one stone that way."

Wasn't that MacArthur's solution to Chinese involvement in Korea?

Heinlein suggests mixing... (Below threshold)

Heinlein suggests mixing it into some form of concrete, making bricks out of it, and stacking it in the middle of the desert. And try as I might, I can't see any insurmountable problems with this solution.

Just wait until we get overrun by mutant camels. 3 humps and an insatiable thirst! The horror!

Instead of concrete bricks ... (Below threshold)

Instead of concrete bricks stacked in the middle of the desert why not a glass based product that is less soluble than concrete and placed in the middle of a secure mountain that can be easily guarded, perhaps on a nuclear test site that is militarily secure and all in the middle of a desert...OH YEAH, WE ALREADY HAVE THAT...Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The only reason we're not already shoving it full of waste is a bunch of NIMBY idiots and protesters who offer no better alternative.

Delphi -- it's even worse t... (Below threshold)

Delphi -- it's even worse than that. A bunch of that cash doesn't go straight to current SocSec recipients, but to all the special spending projects those Congressman love -- a bridge in South Dakota, a museum in Illinois, what have you. And even then, they =still= have a budget deficit.

A tax is a tax is a tax. There ain't no Social Security lockbox.

Don, you stole my thunder. ... (Below threshold)

Don, you stole my thunder. Yucca Mountain is a great solution, IMO. What better way to secure radioactive material than to put a MOUNTAIN on it?

These claims of 'falsified' data are a red herring. Politicians want assurances that the material will be secure for over 10,000 years. Heck, in 1,000, they can start using it for rocket fule.

Re: SSSay it with ... (Below threshold)

Re: SS

Say it with me class, "Social Security is not a retirement or savings plan."

It never has been and never will be. It was welfare for old people. The money you pay goes to two places: 1) Current recipients and 2) the purchase special treasury bonds. The treasury bonds do collect an almost non-existent amount of interest and can be cashed-in at any time. Of course, if the SS system begins to liquify their bonds, then the money for purchasing them back comes out of the general budget (since that is where the money went when the bonds were purchased) and Congress will have to raise federal taxes and/or cut spending.

Or a more simplistic answer to Howie's question is, because the Democrats will never let you take away their old-age vote vending machine. The more money they put in, the more votes they get out of it.

Well, there's radioactive w... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

Well, there's radioactive waste, and then there's radioactive waste. Now, there's stuff like spent fuel rods that you absolutely do not want anything to do with; that stuff needs to spend a few centuries sitting in 5000 feet of water and contemplating its sins. But the bulk of what is classified as "radioactive waste" is stuff like clothing, mops, and rags, that registers just barely above background. Heck, some of it doesn't register above background at all, but because it was used in a nuclear facilitiy, it's classified as radioactive. Jay's suggestion is not at all unreasonable for that stuff.

As for Social Security, I'm 45 and I'm doing my financial planning with the basic assumption that I will never see a penny of Social Security even if I live to be 100. To me, FICA is just another tax. So, from my point of view, any reform that anyone wants to try is welcome -- because even if I only get a small fraction of my promised benefits, that's still better than the nothing that I'm going to get under the current system.

Jay, I'd even be willing to go farther: my bargain would go like this: Ten years from now, SS is closed to new retirees. Existing retirees continue to draw from the system as they do today. As they die off, FICA taxes are lowered to adjust to the fewer number of those remaining beneficiaries, until the last one dies off. At that point, FICA is eliminated and Social Security is finished. Under this formula, I figure my FICA taxes will start declining by the time I'm 70, and will be almost eliminated when I hit 85. (Barring some technological breakthrough that causes a large increase in life expectancy... if that happens, SS goes bankrupt and it's already too late to do anything about it.) NateG and zach will see their FICA rates starting to drop in their mid-40s, just as they hit their peak earning years. I think it works out pretty well for most people.

Otherwise, I see SS basically devolving into a glorified welfare program, and the reach of the FICA tax extending beyond wages and becoming, in effect, an income surtax. That's a sure prescription for tax revolt and generational warfare.

(On a related note: how many people here have Roth IRAs and trust that the government won't try to tax their proceeds at some future time? I'm afraid I don't have that level of trust, and for that reason I'm sticking to conventional IRAs and 401Ks.)

I think SS could be saved i... (Below threshold)

I think SS could be saved if we simply cutoff food and water to people once they reach retirement age +5 years. Or if having them go off in a euphoric, dehydrated state is too squemish we could make them retire to a nice home in the desert....you know, a home made of some coo, new bricks we have out there...

SS = Ponzi T... (Below threshold)

SS = Ponzi

The first person to collect benefits from SS paid in less than $300 in taxes yet received over $20,000
in payouts before death.

SS taxes for my Grand father used to be capped at several hundred per year yet he collected thousands/ per year for 20+ years

I have contributed to SS for 30 years through all the tax increases and have paid roughly $150000 in SS taxes enough to qualify for nearly $1900 per month if I quit now and collect in 12 years(62)
What if I collect for 30 Years?

Do the math J. The first people get way more than they put in....supported
by new people. Anyone heard of PONZI? How about some support from compund interest instead of new ignorami?

Hello Jay, nice to meet you... (Below threshold)

Hello Jay, nice to meet you.

First, the entire structure of your post is a non-sequitur. There are no solutions. Trying to "fix" a problem only leads to acceleratingly clamorous other problems. So it's best to just leave things alone.

Nuclear waste is a contraction in terms. Everybody knows that God gave us depleted uranium to make ballistic projectiles from. The rest of it can be used for pretty dishes.

Howie can be fun to listen to. Sometimes. But his suggestion to opt out of SS is ridiculous. The government needs this revenue to pay the interest on the money it spent during the VietNam War. Duh.

I'll look around and see if there are any other mysteries I can solve forya.

Whenever I hear a politico ... (Below threshold)

Whenever I hear a politico sputter that any privatization of SocSec spells DOOOM and ETERNAL DAMNATION (and those those breathe such blasphemy really spend their evenings waxing their mustache and laughing maniacally) -- I just want to stop and ask 'em if SocSec is the Cornerstone.Of.America how come it's not good enough for them?

People, I'm a government employee here to tell you that I don't pay a dime into SocSec and I OWN my retirement account...just like elected officials and public school teachers.

So why shouldn't SocSec be run like my retirement account??

Well, because then the Congress couldn't spend the so-called "lockbox" money with such sybaritic abandon.

Disposal of radioactive was... (Below threshold)

Disposal of radioactive waste is a political, not a technical, problem. That makes it the worst kind.

Most waste is tailings from uranium mining. It is less radioactive than the ore that came out of the pit. But now we can't put it back in the same pit, (which environmentally would seem to improve the area.)

Medical waste typically has a half-life of less than a 100 years, seldom over 1000. But we can't get it into Yucca Mountain because we can't prove safe storage for 100,000 years. And we can't transport it anyway despite years of crash tests on the containers. So we leave it where we can't be sure of safe storage for 6 months.

There is also some very nasty stuff: mostly uranium, radium, and plutonium. It can't be neutralized but it can be chemically separated. After that, the storage volume is small in relative terms. Do you want it well secured in Yucca Mountain or scattered at hundreds of sites each with different guard procedures, some near cities, in old containers, etc.

This storage thing is lunacy. Nothing can be proved safe. Paralyzing good solutions while awaiting perfection is making the problems worse every day.

Just to add on to Darleens ... (Below threshold)

Just to add on to Darleens point, I too as a gov worker don't pay FICA and instead pay something like 8% of my salary to a private account pre tax.

What is interesting is the liberals (many of which I encounter in my work!) believe in appropriating money for 'the common good' and yet they reap the benefits of not having to pay social security into a pool that will be leached upon by all and sundry regardless of what they paid in.

It's also very interesting that the left opposes any influence of Christianity in public service, and yet they would go apeshit if you took Christmas Day as a holiday away from them. I'd love to see the infighting on the left if the ACLU were to try and ban Xmax as a federal holiday.

The fools who force us to r... (Below threshold)
Tim in PA:

The fools who force us to rely on pollution-spewing coal burning power plants over concern about nuclear power never fail to piss me off. (The big blackout a while back, IIRC, gave a pretty dramatic demostration of how much improvement you get when you shut off some of the coal plants.)

As for the Social Security.... I'm 23. Retired folks get no pity out of me whether they need a SS check or not, seeing as how they've dumped this whole mess in my generation's lap. We've ended up with a system whereby they reaped the benefits of spending money collected in the name of SS, and then passed the bill for their benefits on to us such that if I live to 67 or whatever that I will not see a single damn cent if/when I retire.

The whole mess is even more inane when you consider the fact that our money only has value because (1) people are too stupid to think about it and more importantly, (2) the government accepts it for the purpose of paying taxes. The notion that the government needs to keep some sort of balanced checkbook writ large is downright stupid. Toss in just enough taxes to encourage/discourage what you want, print new money to make up for stuff taken out of physical circulation (worn out bills) and economic circulation (investment in capital) and be done with it already.

But no, this is too much for the assclowns in Washington to handle, so I get a good chunk docked out of my pay for no real reason whatsoever. And people wonder why I don't bother working any more than it takes to pay the bills and feed myself. What's the point? If I work more hours, I'll have to actually start paying income taxes. It isn't worth it.






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