Social Security shortchanges black men

In the U.S., if a black man and a white woman have identical Social Security earnings histories, they will receive the same monthly Social Security payments until death.  That statistically shortchanges the black man because his expected lifespan is shorter. At age 67, a black man’s expected additional years of life is 4.5 years less than that of the white woman.  Under equal earnings and a plausible interest-rate assumption, the black man’s Social Security payment stream is worth 26% less than the white woman’s.

The lesser life expectancies of blacks and men are major inequalities. Equal Social Security payments by race and sex ignore systematic mortality differences and exacerbate major inequalities.  The health care system should focus on increasing black’s and men’s lifespans.  The Social Security system should recognize the extent of the health care system’s failure to do that.

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Data and calculations: how morality differences by race and sex effect the value of Social Security annuities (Excel version)

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COB-62: excellence in nothing

In a recent post that attracted widespread admiration on the Internet, Paul Buchheit declared, “I am nothing.” Excellence in execution of this statement would propel Buchheit into the ranks of leading bureaucrats. Buchheit, however, was the creator and lead developer of Gmail at Google, and he current acts as an angel investor and entrepreneur.  These activities raise serious questions about his merits as a bureaucrat.

faceless bureaucratic drone

Talking and writing about nothing is not enough. Real-world bureaucratic success always depends on execution: doing nothing.  Top-ranked bureaucrats engage in self-effacement day in and day out, year after year.  They remain tranquil in the midst of turbulent activity, they provide brick-solid, consistent service, and they survive through shakeups, reorgs, and mission-statement pivots. Buchheit’s curriculum vitae is not bureaucratically rich enough for him to deserve admiration among leading bureaucratic voices.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, Judy Sims is rooting for AOL.  She observes:

Think about it, this is a company that has had eleven straight years of layoffs and more executive firings and re-orgs than any single human being can possibly keep track of. (I believe the major re-org count is three this year alone.)

AOL is one of the few companies that have successfully made the transition from Internet pioneer to highly effective bureaucracy.  We are delighted that one AOL department is continuing to mail computer disks, now targeted to acquiring new senior-citizen customers.

AOL’s excellence is exemplified in the agenda for an internal all-hands meeting for TechCrunch after AOL’s announced its acquisition of that company.  The meeting ran for 3.5 hours.  The first hour of the meeting was entitled, “Welcome/Opening Comments.”  The heart of the meeting was a one-hour “HR Orientation” that included topics such as “Badge Photos” and “Fill out Paperwork.” Meetings bring people together and help to make a bureaucracy great.

Daniel Lemire analogizes computers to bureaucrats.  As computers become pervasive and vital to everyday life, Lemire’s analogy gains force.  Among Lemire’s insights:

One of the cheapest ways to improve the speed of a bureaucracy is caching. Keep track of what worked in the past. Keep your old forms and modify them instead of starting from scratch.

Put differently, bureaucrats invented caching long before microprocessors began using it.  Perhaps caching should be renamed bureaucrating, and a cache renamed a bureaucrater.  Both computers and organizations could then be ranked by the size of their bureaucraters.  A respectable, modern organization should have at least a 100K bureaucrater.  The Chinese government has the best potential for building an organization with a 1 Meg bureaucrater.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

Social Security biased against single persons

The U.S. Social Security system awards monthly Social Security payments to persons who did nothing more than be in a marriage for at least ten years.  The value of the monthly “spousal” Social Security benefit is basically one-half that of the monthly Social Security benefit of the earning spouse.  The spousal benefit isn’t deducted from the earning spouse’s benefit.  The spousal benefit draws from the aggregate pool of Social Security funds that earners, including single persons, contributed.

Why are persons awarded Social Security payments just for being in a marriage?  One view is that the spousal benefit is for unpaid work within the home.  But single persons have to do work within the home in addition to work outside the home.  If spousal benefits compensate for unpaid housework, a spousal benefit should be added to single persons’ earnings-based Social Security benefits in recognition of single persons’ housework.

Why is the spousal benefit proportional to the earning spouse’s earnings?  The spousal benefit isn’t a fixed benefit based on the average Social Security earnings of persons who do paid work as housekeepers.  Non-earning persons married to high earners get higher Social Security benefits than non-earning persons married to low earners.  Presumably non-earners married to high earners also get more financial benefits through the marriage itself. Single persons have no spouse from whom to get any benefits.  Social Security spousal benefits re-enforce household inequality.

Why does divorce and re-marriage allow an earning spouse to confer additional Social Security benefits?  By getting divorced and remarried, a Social Security earner can endow up to five persons with Social Security spousal benefits.  That’s essentially a Social Security system subsidy for divorce and remarriage.  Single persons cannot confer spousal benefits on others even if they make the same contributions to Social Security as a person on her or his fifth marriage.

Marriage equality for single persons should be a high priority, just below emptying U.S. debtor prisons.

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