Social Security: Turning the Bible’s Teachings Upside Down

Our culture faces a situation nearly unprecedented in human history.  We have forsaken having children (the birthrate here in America is approximately equal to the replacement rate, and it is even less in Europe.)  Thus, we face a massive “graying” of our society as the “baby boomers” age.  In fact, many societies around the world are already or will very soon experience an enormous imbalance between young working people and older people who are no longer in the workforce.[1]  Such an imbalance is virtually unknown in human history outside of times of war, famine, or plague, and the eventual impact on societies around the world will be enormous.

In fact, we are beginning to see this impact in a number of issues that are making news right now.  One such issue is Social Security.  Albert Mohler states the basic problem of a graying population this way:

The simple fact is that a stable standard of living depends upon a steady stream of young persons entering the work force and contributing to the economy and the culture.  When an unprecedented percentage of the total population is aged, the economy and the society in general begins to tilt toward unsustainability.  To state only the most obvious point, when the number of retirees is out of balance with the number of workers, there may simply not be enough economic activity to pay the bills.[2]

The result for the Social Security system is obvious.  There will very soon be too few people paying into the system to support the massive number of people receiving payments from the system.  Thus, as the current news coverage makes clear, we are headed for a tipping point with regard to Social Security and a real fiscal crisis.[3]

Many people have come to accept the Social Security system as an unalterable part of life.  They have so figured Social Security benefits into their retirement plans that, without them, they don’t have enough money to survive.[4]  Further, many people who have paid into the system throughout their working lives feel a strong sense of entitlement to those benefits.  They feel that they are simply receiving what they had paid in plus a little return on their investment, sort of like a poorly performing investment account coercively administered by the federal government.

The problem is that the Social Security system has more in common with a giant Ponzi scheme[5] than it does with an actual investment account.  Social Security was never designed to operate as a system where one receives back what one pays in.  Rather, it was always designed around the idea of younger, working Americans paying for older, retired Americans.  It might surprise you to hear it, but that turns the Bible’s teachings exactly upside down.

Of course, the Bible teaches that we should honor our parents.[6]  When we are young, this manifests as obedience.  When older, it manifests in a variety of ways, one of which can be caring for elderly parents.  This could obviously involve financial support at some point as well as physical aid.  However, the Bible does not envision a system where young working people support older retired people.

Instead, the Bible states “[a] good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.”[7]  Thus, the Bible suggests a system that is the exact opposite of the system that we have adopted.  Instead of the younger working generation saving up and paying for the older nonworking generation, the Bible envisages a system where those working are planning to save up for their own future as well as having enough to leave an inheritance to their children’s children.[8]

With a system that is nearly the antithesis of biblical teaching, is it any wonder that we are experiencing curses instead of blessings?


[1] See, e.g., Phillip Longman, The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity And What to Do About It (2004); Albert Mohler, The Real Population Threat, (Mar. 25, 2009),; and Albert Mohler, “The Land of Disappearing Children” – Japan’s Real Population Crisis, (May 8, 2008)  Many, many other examples could be cited.

[2] Mohler, The Real Population Threat, supra note 2.

[3] Of course, Medicare and Medicaid are even bigger culprits.  Many of the same principles apply to Medicare and Medicaid, but in this post I just focus on Social Security.

[4] Or, at least, survive at their current standard of living.

[5] For an explanation of what a Ponzi scheme is and how it works, see Ponzi Schemes – Frequently Asked Questions, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, (last visited July 22, 2011).

[6] See, e.g., Ephesians 6:1-3.

[7] Proverbs 13:22 (English Standard Version).

[8] First, I would maintain that this passage assumes an inheritance for one’s children.  Thus, the Proverbs are arguing that a good man does even better than this by leaving an inheritance for his grandchildren as well.  Second, I don’t believe that the Bible really has a concept of retirement the way that we have developed it as Americans.  That topic, however, must await another blog post.