Social Security. Perhaps the only way to understand it is to write it this way: social security. No capital Ss.
Because that's what it is: social security. Not financial security, but social security.
The main reason for it was not the Great Depression, although that helped convince us that we needed it. The main reason was the Russian Revolution and the fear that such a revolution could happen here.
Smart rich people realized this. They saw that an economic system where wealth is too concentrated in the top one-percent cannot last for long, not in a world where the example of revolution is in the air. Look at the Middle East today.
And look back to the French Revolution. Though it happened over 200 years ago, it still gives Europeans pause today. They are more conscious of the need for a safety net than we are. They are more aware of the tipping point.
Even though we have gone over this tipping point, as in 1929, we have forgotten some of the measures we took in the mid 1930s, such as Wall Street regulations, and surprise, surprise we came very close in 2008 to going over this tipping point into another total market crash.
And if we had followed President Bush's privatization of Social Security plans, Social Security would have been gone, and we would have been back to 1929: without a major stabilizing force for social security.
For without some safety net, some social security, we are on the brink of economic collapse and on the brink of revolution. Yet we are again flirting with the one percent formula. One party that got close to half the votes in the recent election seriously considers scrapping the safety net.
A reminder of a year that we could return to if the safety net is withdrawn and wealth is ever more concentrated within one percent of the population is 1900, when "William McKinley was president, forty percent of American families lived in poverty, malnutrition was common, one child in ten died before age one, and Andrew Carnegie was the wealthiest man in the world."
This quote is from a brief summary of the new book by Joseph J. Dunn, "After One Hundred Years: Corporate Profits, Wealth & American Society."
Alas, we seem not to have learned much from history, even very recent history.
In fact, our efforts at solving our economic problems involve setting up a contrived tipping point, a fiscal cliff, rather than acknowledging the real world tipping point that would confront us if we jettison our social security.
(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)