The notch that never was

By Leo K. O'Drudy, III
web posted March 12, 2001

The elderly today are a generation that lived during the Great Depression and World War II. Many of them lived through great economic privation, and sweated and bled through the war years. Only five years later many geared up for war all over again in Korea.

This is a generation that is much more likely to have faced and overcome true adversity than the baby boomers or those who came after. This is a generation that knows something about the hard knocks of real life, that was raised in a sane culture that made sense and was steeped in common sense.

So why are so many of them so gullible?

Con men routinely target the elderly with their schemes. Advice columns are filled with letters from despairing adult children who wonder how to stop their parents from signing up with every phony contest and throwing money at every get-rich-quick scheme... ("But he seemed like such a nice boy on the phone!").

Politicians have noticed this ripe target too. Generations ago, Americans had a very different view of government spending. Many families went hungry rather than go through the shame of government help. To pass Social Security, the Democrats couldn't acknowledge that it was simply a spending program; it had to be dressed up with smooth and misleading talk of "social insurance" and "retirement savings" - talk that would have landed a non-government operation in jail if it were putting together a scheme like Social Security.

Franklin D. RooseveltFranklin D. Roosevelt knew what he was doing. He once said that welfare is a "narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit." He also boasted that no one would dare repeal his Social Security program.

Sure enough, once the old folks were hopelessly hooked on it, the Dems have, as they planned to all along, ruthlessly and relentlessly exploited the old folks' fear of losing Social Security for decades ever since.

Although no politician of any party would dare cut benefits today, let alone abolish the program cold turkey, Democrat propaganda endlessly fans the flames of fear amid the elderly. Television ads with heart-rending images of lonely, abandoned old people; slow-motion black-and-white ads of Republicans with their mouths open, seemingly in mid-snarl; sad and depressing piano music; all of it is standard fare at election time. And then comes the shocking rhetoric one hears at campaign rallies and retirement homes -- no doubt millions of elderly people honestly live in terror that Republicans are itching to throw them out in the snow, then splash them with dirty slush while zooming by, guffawing, in limousines. How this will be accomplished in sunny Florida and Arizona, of course, is unclear, but those Republicans will do anything to get old folks.

Election after election, this fear-mongering, this emotional terrorism, has worked wonders for the Democrats. After Medicare was passed and became yet another government program to get hooked on, the Democrats had another weapon on their side.

It is unlikely that Republicans will bust the myths and stand up for themselves.

But if Republicans won't, then conservatives must. And the spot to draw the line is the "notch" issue. Periodically, this pernicious myth pops up and generates floods of mail and phone calls from people who have been bamboozled yet again into feeling they have been short-changed.

The story is that people who were born between a certain set of dates are getting less than every one else from Social Security - so if you drew a chart depicting benefit levels and age, there would be a notch representing the lower benefits for these unfortunates. The date range shifts around depending on who you talk to; some say it is 1917-1921, others 1916-1926, still others 1911-1924, etc.

It's bunk, of course.

What really happened is that there was a mistake in calculating benefit levels; many seniors were getting far more than the designers of Social Security had intended; and the financial strain on the government was going to grow badly and rapidly. In 1977 the benefit levels were recalculated, reducing them for some. But (and this is key) no one ended up with less than what Social Security intended. And as for age discrimination, there is no "notch", but rather a stairstep, going down from left to right. There are three groups of seniors, each one getting more benefits than the one before.

So the "notch victims" or "notch babies" are actually still getting more than they should; just a bit more than their younger friends and a tad less than their older chums. They're not in a "notch", but on the middle step.

Conservatives should do all we can to prevent anyone from being fooled into believing he's a "notch victim". And shame on the pandering politicians and seniors groups who propose "notch relief" giveaway bills. They're doing nothing to pave the way for a freer America. Instead, we should tell people dissatisfied with their benefits that they're not being singled out and treated unfairly; all Americans are being short-changed by Social Security's paltry rate of return, and we could all do better for ourselves than the government politicians and bureaucrats have.

For more information about the "notch" issue, visit the official report on it issued by the Social Security Administration at

Leo O'Drudy is a host of Direct Line, Free Congress' live interactive Renaissance Network television program.

Get a free copy of Common Sense, Common Dreams (64 pgs/PB) from the Cato Institute or order A New Deal for Social Security by Peter J. Ferrara and Michael Tanner from in hardcover for $19.95 or in paperback for $8.76

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