Turning Points in Social Security: From "Cruel Hoax" to "Sacred Entitlement"

Turning Points in Social Security: From "Cruel Hoax" to "Sacred Entitlement"

Turning Points in Social Security: From "Cruel Hoax" to "Sacred Entitlement"

Turning Points in Social Security: From "Cruel Hoax" to "Sacred Entitlement"

Synopsis

This work is a theoretically informed political history of the development of the U.S. Social Security system over more than five decades. When initiated in 1935, Social Security was a noteworthy experiment in social policy, and its endurance, inviolability, and taken-for-granted nature are evidence of its success. In this volume, the author analyzes key turning points in its history in order to provide an understanding of the various forces that led to this success. This book addresses several key questions: What were the important legislative turning points? What individuals or organizations were active in the social and political debates surrounding these turning points? Why were some of these organizational actors more successful than others in influencing policy outcomes, and what were the opportunities or constraints these organizations faced? A second major concern of the book is to explore the often contradictory interpretations of the relationship between the development of Social Security and the role of the state. The author's interpretation knits together insights from major sociological theories to fashion a dynamic explanation of the development of Social Security, one that acknowledges the economic, political, and cultural context and takes into account the importance of specific organizational and social movement actors. This theoretical framework permits an examination of the ways in which various groups influence political change.

Excerpt

During the depths of the Great Depression, with the official unemployment rate at 25 percent, imagine the boldness of proposing a new tax on both employers and employees to fund a compulsory federal old-age insurance program. Yet this was what the Roosevelt administration did in the 1930s in proposing a tax on payroll (one-half to be paid by the employer and one-half to be paid by the employee). Representative Charles Eaton, a Republican from New Jersey, warned of the precedent such a tax would set -- a model for "sovietizing" the distinctive American values of self-reliance and personal initiative. in his opinion, these were embodied best in American industry (cr 1935: 5583). There were Democrats who agreed. Representative John J. O'Connor (D-New York), envisioned a future including old-age insurance as one where we would have the "spectacle of sons and daughters giving up supporting their parents and wanting the Federal Government to support them. We of the great State of New York take care of our deserving aged people, but we do not deceive and delude them" (cr 1935: 5461).

Despite the early controversy, today this tax is one of those least questioned by the American public. Its widespread acceptance is remarkable, especially considering the magnitude of the tax for the average worker. Similarly, there was concern initially over the "Big Brother" potential of Social Security numbers, yet these numbers are widely used today as identification numbers without the least public notice.

It is clear that attitudes have come a long way. Although Social . . .

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