My "Occupy Monterey" Talk, Part IV
When my talk ended, we went to Q&A. One of the first questions was about my preferred presidential candidate, the aforementioned X. Because I am not advocating his candidacy in this post, I can name him: Ron Paul. “One thing I don’t like about Ron Paul,” said one of the questioners, “is that he would end Social Security.” “Actually,” I replied, “he made it clear in one of the debates that he would use the savings from cutting defense spending to shore up Social Security. I disagree with him, but if you want to get upset about someone wanting to end Social Security, get upset at me, not him.” Which many in the audience proceeded to do.
I noted in Part I much of what happened after that. But there are a few things I didn’t mention. One is that a young person in the audience asked how people would provide for their own age if not for Social Security. I had the sense that he or she (I’ve forgotten who asked) wasn’t talking about older people who had come to rely on Social Security but was, instead, thinking that without Social Security, there would be no way for people to save. “I don’t think most Americans are stupid,” I said, “I think they are capable of saving for their own age. Remember that Social Security began in 1935, during the Depression, when many people’s savings were wiped out and remember also that in those days, few people had many years of retirement to provide for after they retired. So we can’t take people’s behavior then as an indicator of how they would act today.” The sense I had, looking at the questioner as I spoke, was that he or she had not thought of that. Every time I give a talk like this or a talk to a Rotary Club, I’m reminded of how little most people know. Tell them a few important facts about economic history and you’ve told them a lot.
After the formal event broke up, one of the organizers yelled out “G.A.” What’s “G.A.?” I asked. “General assembly,” he said. Most of the people went to another location on the City Hall grounds for a meeting. But about 6 or 8 people hung around to talk. A number of them were young people who told me how much they liked the talk and a few other young came by to say they liked the talk. One man in his 70s said that he liked the talk a lot and the way he said it, I knew there was going to be a “but.” “There’s a but coming, isn’t there?” I said. “Everyone has a big but,” he answered, and we laughed. “I’ve paid into Social Security all my life and I’m not asking the government for any money taken from others. I want the money I paid into it that the government put away for me.” “That money is long gone,” I said. “The government has already spent it.” “But I want the money that I put into it,” he replied. “That’s reasonable,” I said, “but the fact that the government took it from you doesn’t make it right for you to have the government take money from a two-year old.” “So how do I get my money back?” he asked. “Maybe you should take it from the estates of all the Congressmen who ever voted for Social Security,” I replied, “and all that money might pay for Social Security for a week.” “You’re crazy,” he said, laughing.
One guy and his lady friend, the aforementioned Russian immigrant (in Part I), hung around and the guy advocated that we get rid of markets and all share because technology is so advanced that we can have all we want. His lady friend, having grown up in Russia, wasn’t buying. So it ended up being him versus his lady friend, a young student, a Republican official whom I’ve gotten to know from other events, and me. He felt overwhelmed. The day was beautiful and I suggested that we go for a walk. The Republican guy, the young Russian lady, and I went for a walk and, at the end, exchanged e-mails.
The next day, I received the following e-mail from one of the organizers:
I want to express my appreciation for your participation in OccuTalks yesterday. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself in person. I am even more sorry about the behavior of some of my colleagues. I may not agree with all your ideas, but I believe in treating everyone with respect and I am embarassed that some people were so rude to you. You have managed to stir up quite a bit of passion and lively debate amongst the Occupiers, though. Thank you for taking the time to work with Timothy and I to plan this and for attending.
Thank you so much, both for your note below and for Liz’s and Timothy’s impassioned and effective defense of my free speech. I had a great time. I know that when I speak to a group, many of whose members are unlikely to agree with me at first, that various passions will be aroused. But what was special was the vast majority who, whether they agreed with me or not, wanted to hear what I had to say and wanted the few who broke the rules to respect the rules. It was a special day and I would do it again.