Next Wednesday, Representatives David Price and Brad Miller are going to hold a forum on the subject of Social Security at Meredith College. My guess is that it will be an exercise in Democratic spin with little or no serious discussion of the issues. They may try denying that there is any problem at all.

If so, thispaper by John Goodman would be a useful corrective.

It is worth noting, if only for the sake of historical accuracy, how we got into this mess. The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 and was challenged by George Davis, a stockholder of Edison Electric Illuminating Co. of Boston, who sued to prevent the SS tax from being paid by Edison. The case reached the Supreme Court in 1936 and the decision was announced in May, 1937.

There is no enumerated power for Congress to establish a national retirement program and compel citizens to “contribute” to it. If one of the members of the constitutional convention had suggested that Congress should have such a power, he would have been hooted out of town. But a majority of the Supreme Court wanted to turn down the political heat on it — FDR’s court packing plan was very much alive at that time — and render a decision in favor of the Act. To find constitutional grounds for Social Security, the Court had to twist the meaning of the General Welfare clause to mean that Congress can tax and spend for anything that it believes to somehow advance the general welfare.

The Court amended the Constitution on its own and we have been suffering from the consequences (Social Security and many other programs that have no basis in the Constitution) ever since. How different our history would have been if only one more justice had balked at tearing up Madison’s handiwork.