April 5, 2012 11:21AM

Dignity in Retirement

In his 2005 open letter to Karl Rove, Ed Crane defended Cato’s proposal for private retirement accounts thus: “You want to get people excited about personal accounts? Tell them about the 1960 Supreme Court case, Flemming v. Nestor, which explicitly says Americans have no ownership rights to the money they pay into Social Security. It is, the Court ruled, a social program of Congress with absolutely no contractual obligations. What you get back at retirement indeed, when you can retire and receive benefits is entirely up to the 535 members of Congress. Where is the dignity in such a system?”

President Bush’s reform of the Social Security went nowhere, but Ed Crane’s warning is no exaggeration. Yesterday, Dimitris Christoulas, a 77‐​year‐​old retired pharmacist killed himself in front of the Greek Parliament. “A suicide note found in his coat pocket blamed politicians and the country’s acute financial crisis for driving him to take his life, police said. The government had ‘annihilated any hope for my survival and I could not get any justice. I cannot find any other form of struggle except a dignified end before I have to start scrounging for food from rubbish bins,’ the note said.”

According to The Telegraph, “One in five Greeks are unemployed, depression is on the rise and there is a growing feeling of despair across the country. The [Greek] government said last year that suicides had increased 40 per cent over the previous two years. The high‐​profile suicide [of Dimitris Christoulas] came a day after a 78‐​year‐​old Italian woman threw herself from the balcony of her third‐​floor apartment in protest against a cut in her monthly pension from 800 euros to 600 euros.”

Those Americans, who rely on Social Security for their retirement, should remember that what the government gives, it can take away. The Social Security system is on an unsustainable path to bankruptcy. The only question is whether Social Security is reformed before it brings about national bankruptcy as well. Every day that our masters in Washington, D.C. dither and refuse to act, the Greek option [i.e.: national bankruptcy] becomes more realistic. The only way to ensure dignified retirement for millions of America’s pensioners is by reforming social security and cutting the size of the government’s future financial obligations.