Sabotaging Social Security

Election '04

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% 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 40 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 38 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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