by Corrin Strong
Clarion News Service.
The future of the Social Security system is
much in the news these days. It seems that by the time most of us Baby Boomers
reach the threshold of retirement in the early part of the next century, there
won't be enough workers around to foot the bill.
Not to worry, say some. We'll
just invest the money in the stock market and all live as kings! Or if that doesn't
work, just raise the tax rate up to 70 or 80 per cent! I suppose it's too late
to question the wisdom of the whole enterprise, but 62 years ago when the measure
was being considered in Congress a few brave souls did. Consider the words of
one Upstate congressman:
"One other thing looking toward the future,
Mr. Chairman. I know the appeal this bill has to every human being, that it appeals
to the humane instincts of men and women everywhere. We will not deny, however,
that it constitutes an immense, immense departure from the traditional functions
of the Federal Government...pensioning the individual citizens of the several
"It launches the Federal Government into an immense undertaking
which in the aggregate will reach dimensions none of us can really visualize and
which in the last analysis, you will admit, affects millions and millions of individuals.
Remember, once we pay pensions and supervise annuities, we cannot withdraw from
the undertaking no matter how demoralizing and subversive it may become.
"Pensions and annuities are never abandoned; nor are they ever reduced. The
recipients ever clamor for more. To gain their ends they organize politically.
They may not constitute a majority of the electorate, but their power will be
immense. On more than one occasion we have witnessed the political achievements
of organized minorities.
"This bill opens the door and invites the entrance
into the political field of a power so vast, so powerful as to threaten the integrity
of our institutions and to pull the pillars of the temple down upon the heads
of our descendants.
"We are taking a step here today which may well be
fateful. I ask you to consider it, to reexamine the fundamental philosophy of
this bill, to estimate the future and ask yourselves the questions, 'In what sort
of country shall our grandchildren live? Shall it be a free country or one in
which the citizen is a subject taught to depend upon government?'"
Those grim predictions were made by Congressman (former U.S. Senator) James W.
Wadsworth Jr. of Geneseo. Despite his advice, the House went on to pass the landmark
legislation creating Social Security on April 19, 1935 by a vote of 327-33. I
am grateful to writer Bill Kauffman of Elba, N.Y. for bringing these remarks to
One more thing. I am proud to say that the Congressman mentioned
was my great-grandfather. I guess I come by my conservative instincts naturally.
Sadly, we are all now the grandchildren he was right to worry about.
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