I’ve been hearing a lot of criticisms of the social security system from my libertarian and objectivists friends. I personally believe that the only way to ensure that young children eat brocolli is by enforcing or incentivizing that action through government policy. What am I talking about? Basically, we do not always know what is good for us, until it is too late. This will make Ayn Rand turn over in her grave, because the idea of freedom to many people is that they can do whatever they want (as long as it doesn’t harm others) and must take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
This is all well and good, and it’s a beautiful theory of how a society should function, much like the theory of a free market. However, we must then be willing to live in a society that provides no safety net. We must be willing to close off all emergency rooms to patients that can’t demonstrate the ability to pay for their treatment. We must be willing to let the unemployed, homeless, senior citizens suffer or die from malnutrition due to insufficient funds to purchase food and minimal shelter. I am not willing to live in such a society.
We have to acknowledge that a safety net is needed because human beings operate in a state of highly imperfect and incomplete information. We do not know enough about the decisions we make to predict to a reasonable degree the long-term effects of our decisions in all circumstances (especially given the circumstances not within our control). We should let experts help us out. Much like Google helps us sort out search results, we should let social security establish a basic guarantee of survival no matter the consequences of our decisions. This, in my opinion, allows for greater freedom than without such a basic guarantee. FDR put it well: “Necessitous men are not free men.” (source)
What I am arguing for, is the same thing that Thomas Paine argued for: a safety net. Whether government or private industry is better at managing such a system is a secondary argument. I believe, much like with the broccoli, private industry will let people slip through the cracks which defeats the purpose of a safety net.