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Picked up Gnat from Sunday school; the craft project consisted of pasting paper leaves on a tree in which sat a sandal-wearing guy with a robe. “What’s this?” I asked.

“Jesus up a tree,” she said. I couldn’t remember any gospel that put fully-grown Jesus in the braches. I looked through the materials, and saw it was actually Zacchaeus, the tax man who had climbed up to see Jesus as he entered Jericho. I explained who it was; she was annoyed. “It could be Jesus because Jesus is everywhere,” she explained. “So it’s Jesus up a tree.” It almost sounds like some sort of blasphemous oath you’d mutter under your breath when things took a wrong turn: ahh, Jesus up a tree. On the way home we talked about this Zach guy: he gave away his stuff to the poor, which was helpful, because they didn’t have anything. Not even any toys for Christmas, she said.

Ah – right.

Interesting how the tax collectors in those days were rich men, eh? Which leads us to our next subject. Which is deadly deadly dull.w

Social Security! I know I know: ahhh, Greenspan up a tree. I bring it up only because I think I’ve found a new Social Security talking point. I’ve never seen this floated anywhere until today, when my paper started an occasional series on SS reform. I bring this up not to pick at the details, which is the sort of wonkery for which I have little patience, but because they’re trying to redefine the program in a most interesting way that tells you a lot about SS reform opponents. Here’s part of the introduction:

“You may have heard that the ratio of workers to retirees keeps dropping, which increases the pressure that Social Security puts on payroll-tax payers. But how much of that is offset by the lower birth rate entrance and women into the workplace, which reduces the number of younger dependents that the average wage-earner is supporting?”

This was a headscratcher for two reasons – I assume the entry of women into the workplace is factored into the projections of the worker / retiree ratio, since it’s not a new phenomenon. Heck, everywhere I go there are women working! I think it’s here to stay, and I assume the eggheads have realized this too. But the reduced birth rate? I can see where this might affect SS if we’re talking about benefits paid to minor survivors, but that would seem a statistically small number. Unless the avian flu wipes out half the parental demographic, I suppose.

After the jump, an explanation. There’s a chart that shows the number of workers per beneficiary: 5.1 in 1960, all the way to 2 in 2040.
“But that’s only part of the equation,” the chart says. “Those who defend Social Security in tis current form say that the changing burden looks a lot different if you take into account all those who depend on the working population – children as well as seniors. The ratio of working-age adults to dependents is more favorable than it has ever been. The projections show that future workers will support more retirees but fewer children, and the ‘total dependency ratio’ will never get as heavy over the next 75 years as it was in the 1960s, when the baby boomers were children.”

Confused? The article expands on the idea:
“The no-crisis school believes the emphasis on workers per retiree neglects an important factor. The workers in the 1960s were supporting fewer retirees but many more children.

“Dean Baker of the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research calculates that the ratio of all workers to all dependents – including children, retirees and adults who don’t work for wages – is close to highest it has ever been. This so-called ‘total dependency,’ approach covers a multitude of unknowables, such as the cost to a worker of supporting a child vs. a Social Security beneficiary.

“’But if you’re looking at the strain on today’s workers of paying to support the nonworking population, it’s much lower than it used to be,’ said Baker, author of ‘Social Security: the Phony Crisis.”

Wow. Wow. Get it? They’ve just made the costs of raising your own kids and the taxes paid to support “adults who don’t work for wages” morally equivalent, part of your general responsibility as a citizen. Apparently your obligation to fund the sunset years of Theoretical Gramps is ethically indistinguishable from your obligation to the kid across from the dinner table with your chin and last name.

If the latter is the case, it’s nice they’re out in the open about it all, no? They believe that the obligation to tend for your family is indistinguishable from your obligation to keep Theo. Gramps in meds and bingo chits. But it’s not. I have a greater obligation to my family than to strangers. Note the clumsy attempt to equate retirees with all welfare recipients – “dependents” becomes your kids, someone’s gramps, and adults who don’t work. All equal, presumably, in their claims on your pocketbook.

This is the lamest argument I’ve heard for the do-nothing-ever-nowhere-anytime approach that seems to characterize the opposition these days, but at least it tells you where some opponents of private accounts reside. It’s not Social Security they love, I suspect, it’s what it represents. It’s not socialism as they’d like, but it’s all we’ve got. In their vision of society, all obligations to one another are equal – at least that’s the presumption from which their ideas flow. You’re permitted to take of your own first - as long as you understand that this bond doesn’t have any real ideological basis for its special status. It’s a privilege we keep around until it withers on the vine.

Do I have an obligation to others? Of course. But I would prefer the freedom to express it as I see fit, thank you.

Sunday was hot – high 50s, which is somewhat unusual. Boiled off most of the snow; the hill outside Jasperwood is now bare, and I got all sorts of ideas for spring and summer projects. I have put my grand idea for a screened porch / waterfall on hold, partly because it would cost eleventy trillion, and mostly because I am going to get this. It comes with its own line of outdoor furniture as well, and I really like the idea of a sofa outdoors with a nice lamp for reading. Or, more likely, late night writing.

Summer Bleats will originate from this grouping, if all goes well. I can only hope this summer isn’t cool and wet like the last few; I want stern total complete blaring summer this time around, now that I have shade outside. Note: free shipping on the furniture and the gazebo, which means it’s easier to order the stuff online than go to the store and pick it up. The latter option means I have to bring it up the steps myself; the online option means sturdy deliverymen will haul it up and leave it just where I want it. The internet. Is there nothing it can’t do?

And now back to work; I’m writing a column about a new $250 shoe with a computer chip in the heel. I’m behind and have no time to proof this, so forgive me. Also: last week’s Diner had the shows set to autoplay, even though I had unchecked those options. Go figure. It’s fixed now, if you were annoyed by the twin feeds. Also Joe. See you tomorrow.