Halloween is a good time to discuss Social Security, because Halloween is the best metaphor for Social Security. I hear Republicans promise privatization and I hear Al Gore talk about a lockbox, and it drives me nuts because both are misrepresenting the system's purpose. You're not supposed to collect your money.
Halloween is cyclical charity. When I was a kid, I rang your doorbell on Halloween and you gave me candy. Tonight, your kids will ring my doorbell and I'll give them candy. In 10 years, my kids will ring somebody else's doorbell. And so it goes.
People grumble about Social Security "running out." That's not how it works. Your money doesn't go into an account somewhere, to be kept safe until you turn 65. That's what an IRA or a 401(k) or a plain old savings account is for. Social Security is just that — social. It means that, for society's good, your contribution will be distributed amongst society's members. And one day, somebody else's money will be distributed to you.
You'll probably pay longer than you'll collect — just as you'll stop trick-or-treating when you turn 14, but you'll keep handing out candy forever. Maybe that's unfair, but it's not supposed to be fair: It's supposed to favor a specific portion of our population whom society has deemed worthy of special attention. Our goal isn't to be fair. Our goal is to be kind and to be just.
I wish Republicans would stop talking about privatization. No discussion of Social Security should include the phrase, "my money." Let's stop pretending that it isn't charity. The worst part of that charade is that it presumes there's something wrong with charity, or that charity shouldn't be a part of responsible government. Both are foolish — and complaining about what Social Security does with "my money" is every bit as small-minded as complaining about the inconvenience of buying candy for Halloween.