How Much Does SS Screw You?

Here are my results from Heritage's Social Security Calculator:

You can expect to pay $350,881 in Social Security taxes over your working life for retirement and survivors benefits. For those taxes, you can expect to receive $2,467 a month in Social Security retirement benefits. Your rate of return under today's Social Security is -3.56%.

However, if you had been able to invest your Social Security taxes in a Personal Retirement Account (PRA), you would have had a total of $1,401,434 when you retired. Your monthly benefits would have been $11,416. You lost $8,948 a month.

Now, what's supposed to be the problem with this, exactly, especially when much poorer folk than me can also expect to be doing a lot better? Why are so many people so eager to oppose a program that makes almost everyone better off? I find it truly baffling.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

46 thoughts

  1. “Nevertheless, this stuff matters and it’s important to wean the culture off superstition.”
    Then why attack religion and not all superstition and irrationality? Many atheists believe in ghosts, ufos, astrology, marxism, racism, 9/11 conspiracies etc. If religion would die tomorrow, people would just substitute it with other superstitions, cults and silly behaviours. We would still be left with our basic cognitive biases.
    On a collective level, moderate religion may be a good way to concentrate and manage our superstitions. We don’t want competition in the production of bads.

  2. Here’s the problem, Will. Religious belief is deeply irrational. There isn’t any undefeated evidence for the existence of supernatural beings, and the a priori arguments all suck. The people who advance these arguments are disingenuous. They don’t actually believe on the basis of the arguments or on their supposed evidence. Rather, they are just rationalizing stuff they believe on faith, i.e., without evidence and despite counter-evidence. So, when you argue against a religious believer on religion, you’re arguing with an intellectually dishonest person about the very issues she’s dishonest about. You’ll have to sit through her conflating possiblity and probability, lying about standards of evidence, lying about burdens of proofs, etc. At the end, you won’t convince her, and you’ll feel foolish for bothering.
    The only reason to argue with such people is to help honest third parties.
    (For what it’s worth, I do accept that maybe 1 out of 50,000 or so theists might not be irrational in light of her theism. Also, I realize this post is smug and dismissive, but theism is ridiculous and deserves that.)

  3. JB,
    I have no answers. My admittedly weak point is that if we “evolved” from apes, what was the purpose of the evolution? Certainly not survival, as there are still apes. I know that we share most of our biological makeup with apes. No one can convincingly explain to me how some apes suddenly got (technically, like inventing weapons, communications, transportation, etc.) intelligence.

    1. “Certainly not survival, as there are still apes.”
      We had a common ancestor. It split up and these new branches had different evolutionary pressures, which pushed them further in different directions. Some needed to become more human in order to survive, some didn’t.
      If there is an evolutionary reason for white skin color, why are there still people with black skin? Because there was no reason to (re)develop white skin in Africa.

    2. ..what was the purpose of the evolution?
      Simple answer: There was none.
      Asking that question is like asking “What is the purpose to salt dissolving in water?”, or “What is the purpose to fire?”, or “What is the purpose to orbital mechanics?”. They are all nothing more than natural processes which appear to be the consequence of certain basic physical properties of the universe.
      If you say to a rational, curious empiricist, “But isn’t that a remarkable co-incidence? Doesn’t it seem obvious that there had to be a governing first cause to calibrate a universe so suitable for us?”, they will respond by replying “If the universe wasn’t configured that way, you wouldn’t be here to ask that question, and I wouldn’t be here to respond to your question by asking what you believe were the meta-conditions which allowed for the creation of your agent of first cause?”
      The evidence before our eyes is that human beings have devised a vast number of intricate belief systems; gods, spirits, guides, trees-that-breathe-butterflies. They’re all mutually exclusive. None of them is a useful predictor of anything. If you’re going to find reasons to reject the overwhelming number of these belief systems, why not discard the last one also?

  4. Paul,
    We didn’t evolve from any of the other species of apes you see alive today. Rather, we share common ancestors with them. Also, though the disparity between our intelligence and theirs is significant, remember that we involved from other homonid species, some of which were more intelligent than the other currently living apes.

  5. Hey Will,
    Some of us atheists/agnostics aren’t out there mixing it up because we don’t buy the antiquated modernist versions of truth, certainty, and science on which the new atheists base their claims.
    Evolution is just a way of seeing the world. It’s a very helpful one; it’s useful to us in achieving our aims. But the idea that it is “true” in the sense of “representing the world the way it really is” just seems outdated.
    Stanley Fish put it well in a column back in 07. On the new atheists’ reasons:
    They are good Darwinian reasons; remove the natural selection hypothesis from the structure of thought and they will be seen not as reasons, but as absurdities. I “believe in evolution,” Dawkins declares, “because the evidence supports it”; but the evidence is evidence only because he is seeing with Darwin-directed eyes. The evidence at once supports his faith and is evidence by virtue of it.
    Will, I’d love to see you talk with someone about this oh BhTV. But rather than watch you debate a believer, I’d like to see you test your views on science and certainty against a postmodernist, a pragmatist, someone who would challenge you on those fronts.

  6. But, amazingly, only this common ancestor of apes and humans evolved into something as “sophisticated” (I use this term cautiously) as humans. Why are there no skyscraper-building, hybrid-car-developing, contemporary housing developers in the lion or walrus families. Oh, of course, no need arose.

    1. Paul –
      There is more complexity in a single cell of the most primitive bacteria than there is in all human contrivance. There are more surprising innovations, more solutions to hard problems. Move to other cells, other species, and the the splendor multiplies.
      By contrast, our human beings’ bodies are badly “designed” (our guts hang from our ribs, our eyes are inside out, our liver chemistry is woeful). Our engineered solutions to our gross biological problems are primitive, fragile, and terribly inefficient. Our over sized brains make us vulnerable to parasitic organisms–species like Zea mays, Cannabis sativa–and parasitic thoughts–fear of the dark, illusions of memory.
      We are barely beginning to understand, still less to appreciate, the grandeur that resides in the tangled bank of our universe.

  7. Trying to convince the average Christianist there is no God is about as useful as trying to get my rural MN farmer grandparents that veganism is the ideal diet they need to follow. It may be the best for them heathwise and the most earth friendly (I don’t buy that, but for the sake of the analogy, play along…), but it’s a ridiculous premise for them and its a waste of time.
    The real battle is to just get them to stop eating so much red meat, which is going to kill them.
    Likewise, the real battle is to get the Christianists to stop reading the Bible so literally that they think two dudes kissing or doing a little science in a lab is going to bring the apocalypse. You don’t need to disprove God exists to make the world a better place. I thought you were a incrementalist?

  8. Paul, please go study evolutionary biology. All of your criticisms and doubts have been dealt with at length.
    Will, I like Walter’s suggestion that you debate Stanley Fish, even though he is a joke and an intellectual fraud. Before doing so, take a look at this paper (“The Vacuity of Postmodern Methodology”) in Metaphilosophy.
    I’ve seen Fish present his thoughts before, and he actually makes the bullshit moves that Shackel complains about. In particular, Fish did “the postmodern shuffle”. He said that there’s no objective reality. When someone pointed out this is self-refuting (if true, then Fish’s claims are not true, etc.), he retreated to saying trivial things like, “Our understanding of the world is mediate by concepts.”

  9. JB
    Your link didn’t work for me. I usually enjoy Fish’s columns (though I often disagree with them) but I want to clarify that I wasn’t suggesting that Will debate him.
    What I was suggesting was something much broader: that the interesting debate, to me, would not be over the existence of god, but over the verifiability of the claims made in such a debate.

  10. You know, I really don’t think this culture war stuff is important. We live in a pluralistic country, so why are other peoples beliefs relevant to me? If they are trying to coerce me, that is one thing. But its easier to win the warm and fuzzy argument for tolerance than it is the mean sounding “There is no God, when you die you just rot in the ground lol.” argument.

  11. “There is no God, when you die you just rot in the ground lol.”
    We can make it sound more positive than that. For example, we can build a beautiful story from the big bang through evolution to us and note how incredibly lucky we are to exist, and why we must make the most of our lives because this is all we have, etc, etc.

  12. Using the Bible as evidence of the Christian God is as reasonable as using the Iliad as evidence of Zeus, Ares, and Athena.

  13. Your post equivocates between arguing for atheism out of concern for truth and arguing for atheism for purpose of scoring propaganda victories in the culture war. The former motive is likely to appeal to philosophy professors, but precisely for that reason they are probably less interested in writing polemics and more interested in debating Plantinga and his ilk.
    Those interested primarily in fighting culture wars may find that advocating a watered-down Christianity is more effective than marginalizing themselves with a frontal assault on theism.

    1. Another way you could say it is that I imply that falsehood has corrosive cultural consequences. But I agree that this oversells it, and that neutered and civilized religions are probably good enough.

      1. You should read Douthat today. You won’t be surprised to discover that he disagrees with you on the utility of neutered religion. He seems to think that fighting falsehood with falsehood is the way to go.

  14. “None of these arguments are any good, of course, as there is no God, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, and so on.”
    LOL! Will, I didn’t realize you were so ignorant. To claim 100% certainty on these points belies your ignorance.
    Can you prove there isn’t a god? Until then, maybe you might get more respect for your beliefs (that there is no god) if you show some for the beliefs of others (that there is a god).

  15. Heather Mac Donald did a with Ross Douthat recently that focused a good deal on the problem of evil (especially natural evil). Perhaps you could use your sway with Bob Wright to arrange another such bloggingheads encounter involving you and a theist?

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