Undermining Social Security

1 Feb 2005

Paul R. Potts

So Bush’s latest packet of lies is the attempt to convince us that Social Security is doomed, and needs to be replaced with private accounts. I’ve read the RNC’s 200-plus page briefing guide. I’ve heard the pundits interviewed. The propaganda is working.

One of the arguments I keep hearing is that “XXX percent of young people of age YYY believe that Social Security will not be available to them when they retire.” Bizarrely, we’re expected to take this as evidence of a problem with Social Security. Of course, all it tells us is that decades of concerted propaganda has succeeded in casting widespread doubt on the viability of the program.

Take a look at the article “The Trillion Dollar Hustle,” from Harpers Magazine, June 2002 issue. You can Google “Thomas Frank Trillion Dollar Hustle.” Take a look at the New York Times Magazine’s article of Sunday, 16 January, by Roger Lowenstein, entitled “A Question of Numbers.” Ask yourself whether you should be getting your information from surveys of twenty-something Fox News watchers, or people who have actually studied the issues.

Why have millions of dollars been spent to convince us that Social Security is a failing Ponzi Scheme? It is, really, strictly a matter of ideology. It has nothing to do with whether Social Security is bankrupt or not, or successful or not. Fundamentally, the anti-Social Security activits don’t believe in the concept of civil society. You can hear this undercurrent on talk shows across the country, although it is rarely stated.

“I’ve got enough money for my retirement,” the argument goes, “because I worked hard and carefully invested my money. You, on the other hand, who fiddled around and didn’t manage to demonstrate the necessary Personal Responsibility,” they say, “didn’t. And there’s no way in hell that you should expect me, the paragon of virtue, to help you survive in retirement. Doing so would just foster dependency, not virtue, in you.”

Because we all know that successful people are all self-made, and never got any benefits themselves from civil society. Yes, at the bottom, it comes down to “throw grandma from the train.”

Never mind that Social Security is fundamentally insurance, and not designed to give anyone a cushy retirement, but just to guarantee that our elderly aren’t starving in the streets. That it covers more than just the elderly — it also provides disability insurance. It helped my mother, for example, by supplementing her income after my father divorced her, leaving her with two young children to raise on her own income, and helped her to get on her feet financially.

There are some minor adjustments required periodically to adjust Social Security to handle changing demographics. Privatization has Wall Street money managers salivating. Imagine, a thousand Enrons, a thousand WorldComs! It’s a neoconservative wet dream. But it is a disaster in the making, the undermining of an incredibly efficient and effective government program.

Mark my words: if this gets underway, Social Security will be working in a few years about as effectively as our system of health insurance is working now. (Hint: of about 700,000 bankruptcies declared in 2001, most of which were related to medical bills, and in most cases the families involved had health insurance.)

We wonder why people in other countries look down on us. It’s because we are just greedy and self-centered enough to do this, in the guise of promoting an “ownership society” by people who own it and “personal responsibility” by people who don’t have any.

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