A Most Popular Conspiracy
FOR most of its history, social security was considered one of the most successful enactments of the federal government. Since 1940, when the first government old-age-insurance check was sent to Ida Fuller of Brattleboro, Vermont, the social security system has expanded steadily and now covers 35 million beneficiaries. By 1979, it was paying out $147 billion annually in old-age, disability, and medical benefits. Little criticism accompanied this continuous growth. If an occasional Republican Presidential candidate questioned the program, it was at his peril; social security appeared invulnerable. Its apparent success at treating a needy clientele with increasing generosity while spending little on administration won the praise of many a political science professor to generations of undergraduates. Here was a federal bureaucracy that really worked!