The hits just keep on coming. The Internet hits for Larry Kotlikoff and his Social Security Secrets, that is. We’re still getting tens of thousands a day and wave after wave of inquiries for Larry, some of which he’s been gracious enough to answer here on Making Sen$e. Friday is our third installment of “Ask Larry,” and appreciative as I am, I want to take issue with his next-to-last answer to “Humanistic” about the system’s reason for being. Even though Larry’s joking, it’s ridiculous and even dangerous to suggest that Social Security was designed to drive us mad. (You might check out the question and Larry’s answer before continuing to read this introduction.)
Like every other piece of complex policy in a complex, highly politicized economy, Social Security has evolved in ways that are often confusing — bedeviling, even. Like the tax code. Like the criminal justice code. Like Dodd-Frank. Ever look at a compliance guide for the Americans with Disabilities Act?
To put it plainly, we’re a nation of laws and rights. They’re constantly changing with changing times, changing mores, changing technology. In the process, they become more fine-tuned, more complicated, more Byzantine even and, as a result, often more infuriating.
There’s this fantasy that laws and policy can be made simple. But tell that to your neighbor when she contests your right-of-way. Tell it to the inmates at Guantanamo or to Julian Assange. Tell it to someone whose baby has been poisoned by lead paint from an unregulated toy made in China. Tell it to the stockholders of a corporation that’s gone bankrupt by making deals it never publicly revealed. Sure, ours can seem like an “overly litigious” society. But is there so much litigation in this country because our laws are so complicated? Might it not be that our laws are so complicated because of all the litigation, all the insistence on our widely heralded competitive advantage, “the rule of law”?