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The Birth Of Social Security
Had Franklin D. Roosevelt not been so conservative, we might have had national health insurance forty years ago
April/May 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 3
This renders all the more serious, even dangerous, the negative legacies that remain from New Deal years. Though greatly expanded, Social Security does not yet provide that “universal coverage” proposed in the original Wagner-Lewis Bill and removed from it by the Morgenthau-Roosevelt revisions. National health insurance—which almost certainly could have been achieved in 1935 or early 1936 if Roosevelt had fully exercised on its behalf his political potency—is still only a proposal, as medical and health costs soar high above the realm of justice and common sense. There remain restrictions upon the amount of income that can be earned by an elderly person without a reduction in annuity payments that in simple justice are his or her property, having already been paid for by deductions from that person’s wages. It is still true that Social Security “is structured in such a manner that the income transfers flow from lower-middle-income groups to lower-income groups, with upper-income groups contributing very little,” as Seligman has said —and the socially and personally harmful effects of this increase with every boost of the payroll tax, as Congress and Executive still resist the demand for generalrevenue financing.
This last flaw in Social Security is, of course, the most fundamental. It is the source of the great crisis facing the system as this is written. And it was bequeathed to us largely by the mind, the temper, the sense of priorities of Franklin Roosevelt as these operated upon opportunities and possibilities that were far more numerous and wide in the 1930’s, when all was fluid and malleable, than they are today.