"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
How I Said No to the Automatic Social Security Number
This is the story of how I successfully refused to accept a Social Security Number for my child.
I simply said 'no.'
Really. That's how easy it was. I just said no, again, and again.
On the Texas Application for Birth Certificate, which I was unable to get a copy of for this article, there is a check box down at the bottom of the page. It says, and I'm paraphrasing, 'Check here to have your child assigned a Social Security Number.'
A day or two after my daughter was born, a girl walked into our recovery room with a folder of papers and brochures. There were all kinds of release forms and medical advice and, of course, the birth certificate application. I had a pretty good idea which forms were required for our insurance. We filled those out, leaving off everything but the barest minimum required information. Then we got to the birth certificate, with the incongruous SSN checkbox stuck into a corner at the bottom of the second page. I left it blank, of course. I suspected what was going to happen, and when the hospital admin returned the forms to us to put our final signatures on, someone had very considerately checked the box for us.
My wife pointed out that we deliberately left the checkbox blank and that we did not want our child assigned a Social Security Number. The hospital admin blinked. That funny look came across her eyes. You know the one; that purple confusion that occurs when someone who is accustomed to people doing what she says suddenly slams into a brick wall of opposition? That was she.
'I ' I don't know how to do that,' she stammered.
Of course she knew how to do it. When you get to that matching field on the computer screen, you leave it blank! She just never had an opportunity to try. Her lucky day to learn something new!
I shrugged. 'Not my problem,' my shrug implied. She gathered up the papers, frustrated and annoyed, and left. We had obviously tossed a minor foible her way. Damn new parents. Always wanting everything just the way they want it.
I turned around to see my mother-in-law, who is the quintessential 'Patriotic American'', trying to burn holes through me with her eyes. She had overheard the quibble about the Social Security Number and her patriotic duty was flying full mast (this was not too long after the September 11 massacre). Her cultural upbringing prevented her from actually voicing the question, so I just answered without waiting for her to speak.
'It's her choice,' I said, turning my head to my newborn.
'Social Security is voluntary. It's a contract. She's not old enough to understand it or make an informed decision. So, we believe it's a decision that should be left to her. She can always sign up when she's older, and knows what she's getting into.'
'But what if you die or get sick? Who will take care of her?' my mother-in-law demanded.
'I opened a half million dollar policy at work this week,' I countered. 'If I die, she gets a half-million bucks. That's a lot more than Social Security will ever pay her. Ever. I'll also put her on my health insurance. She's covered. I don't need Social Security to take care of her. We'll decide soon on setting up guardianship in the event we both die. And besides, there's always you.'
My wife voiced her support.
'Mom, it's our decision to make. Social Security is just bad. There won't be any money left when I retire, much less her, so we don't see the value in it. It's something we've discussed and agreed on and it's our decision to make, okay?'
My mother-in-law quietly accepted our decision. Or at least tolerated it. Or at least realized it was futile to argue any further.
A while later the room phone rang and I answered it.
'Mr. Allen? I understand you refused the Social Security Number for your child?'
It was an older woman, obviously a supervisor of some kind. The razor in her voice was barely concealed.
'You do realize that without a Social Security Number she can't go to school or get a driver's license?' she menaced.
'Well,' I said as friendly as possible, 'it'll be a few years before she goes to school and even longer before she needs to drive. And I can always get her one later, right?' I knew I could, but I wanted to play the 'innocent' as much as possible. This lady was too close to government institutions for me to really want to piss her off.
She conceded that yes, my daughter could always get one later and abruptly hung up.
My mother-in-law had taken to staring out the window without blinking. Chinese for disapproval, I suppose.
A few minutes later the same hospital admin returned with our paperwork. The checkbox was blanked with whiteout, and a handwritten note authorized the correction. I signed my paternity (but left off my own SSN) and my wife finalized.
We weren't out of the woods yet. People in government are so conditioned to habit that I knew there was a strong possibility that someone would key in the SSN application in spite of the very explicit note. If we received a Social Security Card in her name in spite of our wishes, it would be almost impossible to have it rescinded. It requires essentially suing the hospital administration for misrepresentation and forgery, and once that victory is achieved, the results ram-rodded through the SSA. Good luck. The only other option I know of is to burn the card immediately and assume it never existed, something that may not be a bad idea for most adults as well.
It takes two to three weeks for a new Social Security card to be mailed to an applicant. My daughter has recently had her first birthday party and we have not received any contact from the SSA.
It was easy, far easier than I expected. Confidence defeats the habitual bully. But there were other ramifications beyond snotty hospital administrators. The health insurance was a bigger worry of mine than the hospital papers or the birth certificate. For the birth, I printed out and packed our state laws regarding the form of the birth certificate. They are very specific about which sections are required. Interestingly enough, the section dealing with the parents' Social Security Numbers and application for a child's Social Security Number are explicitly deemed 'not a part of the legal birth certificate.'1 I knew that was in the bag (and highlighted for easy pointing out to administrative automatons). But the health insurance was a big worry. I found nothing preventing a health insurer from refusing coverage to a dependent without a Social Security Number. In the end, I applied for the change of benefits and left my child's SSN field blank. In the course of conversations with agents to set up her benefits, only one even mentioned that she had no SSN. I simply said my daughter didn't have one yet. That seemed fine and I have so far had no issues or difficulties with either the insurance, doctors, or licensed child-care. Let me repeat that to make sure it sinks in. I have heath insurance, a pediatrician, and licensed child-care without my child needing an SSN. Interestingly enough, since then I have received computer generated documents on my daughter with the SSN filled in as 000-00-0001.
Since then, various family members have circulated our SSN choice through the grapevine, and I occasionally get messages from people asking how it is legal, or being angry with me for 'stealing' from America (as if American has more claim over my child than I do). The SSN conditioning is so deep even people who are old enough that one would think they remember not having an SSN believe that it is a requirement of citizenship in the United States from birth. As with many things in the freedom movement, being an example prompts more questions and interest than debating about it ever could. I've been able to educate dozens of people on the fact that a Social Security Number is not required for natural born citizens simply because I wouldn't accept one for my own child. This in itself is a great victory and a building block to spreading the freedom meme.
But I have had to be very careful about my reasoning. Obviously many people I talk to are shocked that my daughter does not have an SSN. Inevitably the conversation comes around to taxes. 'But how do you claim her as a dependant on your taxes?' they ask.
And then the saddest part of the Social Security scheme rears its ugly head.
'But doesn't that cost you more money?'
Yes. Yes, it does. Not claiming a dependent on your taxes is your right. You always have the 'right' to pay more taxes. You always have the right to refuse a deduction. At our income, I figure not claiming my daughter costs me between $300 and $400 every year in tax deductions that I don't get back.
Most people reply with, 'Is that all?' I shrug and say, yeah, that's all. Three or four hundred dollars a year and my daughter is free from Social Security for as long as she wants to be.
And a few say, 'But that's a lot of money!'
And this is when I have to bite my tongue and refrain from replying. My child is worth more to me than a couple of hundred bucks a year. The condemnation in that statement is best left implied, rather than openly spoken. It's a conclusion that needs to be reached gently by the listener, rather than slapped in the face like a leather glove. But without exception, no one who has pursued that line of questioning with me has ever broached the subject again.
So that's it. My daughter is not a number. It will be her choice to enter the system if she wants. If she chooses, she can be self-employed and never pay income tax. She can keep the fruits of her labors for herself, or she can sign up for the social trough when and if she thinks it is appropriate. She will be educated on what it entails and how it works. She may have to learn to drive without a driver's license. She may have to learn to save for health expenses. She may have a more difficult life than many people, but she will have an opportunity of freedom that most people in America never receive. I can't make her take it. I can't make her embrace the difficult life of freedom in America . But I can give her the chance.
1 Texas Statutes: Health and Safety Code: Chapter 192.002 ' Form of Birth Certificate; Section (c): 'The form must include a space for recording the Social Security Numbers of the mother and father and the signatures of the biological mother and biological father. These Social Security Numbers and signatures are not a part of the legal birth certificate . . . .'