People differ in their beliefs about whether individuals can make good decisions about lifetime consumption and savings. Economists generally think that individuals are the best judges of their own well-being. As a consequence, economists are suspicious of arguments that suggest that the government knows better than you do how you should make your own private decisions (such as how to manage your money). However, the decision making required for lifetime financial planning is very complicated, and the consequences of error are so severe, that many economists nonetheless think that failures of individual decision making are a good reason to support Social Security.
People differ in their beliefs about how much government should be involved in people’s lives. Some people are, in general, philosophically opposed to significant government involvement in individual decisions. Even if individuals make poor decisions about their lifetime consumption and savings and end up poor, these people would argue that individuals should bear the consequences of their own mistakes, and government should not bail them out. Others tend to the view that government has a critical role to play in protecting the unfortunate and unlucky. People have different views about fairness and equality. Some people have the view that an important function of government is to protect the worst off in society and to redistribute some resources from those who are relatively rich to those who are poorer. Such people tend to be strong supporters of programs such as Social Security because it protects those who, through bad luck or poor decisions, would otherwise end their lives in poverty. Others disagree, saying that government should not be involved in redistribution of resources. They also point out, as we observed earlier, that Social Security, by its very nature, benefits those who live for a long time, so it is not a good deal for groups with lower life expectancies.