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Plutocrats' New Pitch: Let Us Rob You Now So You Can Plan Ahead for Poverty

Pete Peterson & Co. kindly want to take your Social Security away to prevent you from imagining a dignified future.

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Somehow, I’ve wound up on the mailing list for a group of oligarchs campaigning to swindle Americans out of their hard-earned retirement insurance. Hedge fund billionaire Pete Peterson, the budget buffoons Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, and the rest of their merry band of hustlers over at the hilariously named Committee for a Responsible Budget have asked me to consider their latest proposal.

So I thought I’d oblige them, what the heck.

Judging from the shrill headline in their mailing [ full text here], these men (and a token woman or two) wish to sell me on the idea of “Social Security Reform and the Cost of Delay.”

The cost of delay? Boys, I hear you on that. Any delay in ripping me off must be very costly — for you.

Social Security, the most prudently managed and economically sound retirement program the country has ever seen, and with the very lowest costs, is preventing you from piling up even more money in your bank accounts. Trust me, I really do understand how you feel:  Financiers desperately wish to get their mitts on American retirements so they can charge all sorts of outrageous fees. And you hate the prospect of having to pay higher taxes in the future if you don’t “fix” Social Security.

I know how diligently you've tried to privatize America's best-loved program in order to get this show going. You must be bone tired! And I also fully get that as rich people interested far more in the size of your bank accounts than anything so trifling as, say, the strength and health of your country, you hate paying taxes of any kind. You deeply resent such citizen responsibilities, and so you want to cut Social Security as quickly as possible (calling your cutting “reform,” you clever marketing devils!) because doing so will lessen your already minuscule tax burden. Your aim is to hurt America’s retirement program to the point where you can bring up your privatization hustle again. Does that about sum it up?

The thing is, though, cutting Social Security does not make any economic sense for the other 99 percent of the country. The program is in very good shape, hard-working Americans have paid into it, and if (and that’s a big if) any adjustments need to be made a decade or two down the road, we can talk about it then. For now, the only real justification for cutting seems to be the prospect of fattening your bank accounts. Sorry, not sold. I know that's one less yacht for you but I think you can live with it.

Your fear-mongering pitch to me is filled with all sorts of extraordinary economic predictions, which are all the more amazing as none of you had so much as the ghost of an idea that the financial crisis was coming. But never mind, you in your infinite wisdom know that based on your calculations, if you don’t rob me by cutting Social Security now, I will lose benefits in the future. You may not realize I actually read economic projections written by legitimate economists, who inform me that your predictions are worth about as much as those of a carnival fortune-teller. Probably less.

In their paper, “ Deficit Fantasies in the Great Recession,” Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson, both of the Institute of New Economic Thinking, write:

“Current discussions of Social Security [fall] into two groups: One rails on about how ‘runaway entitlements’ are leading to a deficit explosion; while the other advises patronizingly that Social Security can be saved in the long run by timely changes, typically involving a mix of taxes and benefit cuts, including, notably, yet another rise in the age of eligibility for the program. Neither point of view is persuasive.”