28 December 2004

If It Ain't Broke...



The GOP's Sabotage of Social Security

Robert Scheer
Op/Ed - The Nation


Just my luck: I finally get to be a senior citizen only to discover
that the President considers my longevity a grave threat to the
nation. Apparently, my collecting Social Security checks for as long
as I have left on this Earth is going to help bankrupt the economy
and/or be an unbearable burden on young Americans.

That's why, after seven decades of unmitigated success in protecting
seniors from the vagaries of market forces, the White House now wants to turn Social Security itself over to the vagaries of market forces. The conservative mantra, whether it comes to energy policy, war in Iraq or education, is to siphon public money into the private sector whenever and wherever possible, through such gimmicks as agribusiness subsidies, school vouchers and the hiring of private mercenaries.

Greed perfectly meshes with ideology in the Republican Party, and the attempted sabotage of Social Security is just another example. While
the followers of Milton Friedman talk about the free market in
religious terms, Wall Street is slavering at the possibility of one
of the biggest potential windfalls in human history if the Social
Security spigot is turned its way. The attendant investment fees
alone would be enormous--certainly higher than the minimal 1 percent
overhead costs the current Social Security system consumes.
What's astonishing is that despite the recent spate of abrupt
corporate bankruptcies and Wall Street corruption scandals, the
President would have us believe only stockbrokers can save Social
Security, and the stability of the entire fund would be tied to a
stock market that has been known to tank now and again. Further, even the President's key advisors admit that the short-run cost
of "privatizing" Social Security would add trillions of dollars to
the Bush legacy of federal government red ink.

While I am all for expanding opportunities to invest in tax- deferred
retirement accounts (like 401k's), it does not follow that Social
Security should be exposed to the same risks. Social Security is the
safety net for the elderly that has since its inception protected
millions from facing abject poverty upon retirement--even if their
pensions should evaporate, as they did for the employees of Enron.
Along with Medicare, Social Security is the key reason seniors are no
longer the most impoverished class in our society or a crushing
burden on their children. This last needs to be mentioned to counter
the argument that ensuring the security of baby boom seniors would
impose an intolerable burden on younger workers. For who is going to
replace those Social Security checks, should they stop coming because
Grandpa picked the wrong stock? The kids and grandkids, that's who,
if they have any real family values.

I speak out of an experience I'm sure many of you share. My mother
retired after forty years as a garment worker, after which she lived
with me until she died at the thankfully old age of 88. Her presence
was of great emotional value to our family, but because of her two-
decade bout with Parkinson's, it would have represented a serious
financial burden on my wife and me had it not been for government
support.

The President says the system that has served us well in the past is
no longer sustainable. He, or rather those cooking the books for him,
attempts to scare us with projections that the Social Security trust
fund will begin to run deficits thirty-eight years from now.

But those numbers assume no dramatic change in the increasing ability
of seniors to retire later and otherwise continue to earn income that
is taxable. The anti-Social Security crowd is trying to make this a
young-versus-old generational fight, even though seniors still pay
taxes like anybody else. We even pay taxes on most of our Social
Security earnings, if our household income rises above a pittance.
If the President is truly worried about the federal coffers running
dry he should stop cutting taxes for us better-off folk and stop
spending so much money on boondoggles like the occupation of Iraq.
However, if it turns out that we need additional taxes to cover the
obligations of the Social Security trust fund four decades from now,
so be it. After all, money distributed to the elderly through Social
Security is poured right back into the economy.

For three-quarters of a century, Social Security has guaranteed us
all a life of modest dignity as we live out the end of this mortal
coil.

So--if you'll pardon this senior's use of a curmudgeonly truism--I
say if it ain't broke, don't fix it.


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