Saturday, November 05, 2011

Well, Is It, or Isn't It?

It seems to me we ought to put the question of Social Security to rest for a moment, a moment here being defined as some 10, 20, 30, or perhaps even 50 years. Social Security is the largest government program of its kind in the world. It has been a success for more than 70 years, is highly popular, and a large majority of the population does not want it abolished. So why is there constant talk of abolishing it altogether, or privatizing it, or having to cut it because of the national debt? I believe the basic facts of the Social Security Program are known, but you wouldn’t think so, listening to Republicans.

There are two very different claims about Social Security and its future. Republicans would have us believe it is going to be insolvent in the future and this means it must be changed now, either privatized, simply eliminated, or changed in other ways, such as raising the age of eligibility, cutting benefit s, or whatever. They, of course, favor privatization, as they would love to see Wall Street make enormous profits from that eventuality. To try to get their way with Social Security, Republicans variously describe it as a Ponzi scheme, a form of socialism, a bankrupt system, and they constantly try to link it to the deficit. They are fond of claiming there is no money in the Social Security reserve, only I.O.U.’s. They also argue that as the money is collected from younger workers to support the older retirees, as the number of elderly increase there will not be enough younger workers to keep the system solvent.

The other version of the system is that it is completely solvent at least until 2023 (or possibly a bit longer), it has been and will continue to be a successful and useful program, necessary to keep the elderly and handicapped out of poverty. If a bill submitted by Bernie Sanders were to be approved, Social Security would be solvent for the next 70 years simply by raising the cut-off limit at which it ceases to be collected. And, they argue, it is not connected to the deficit and should be handled separately.

Obviously the complete picture is more complicated, but I believe the basics are pretty much as above. It seems to me the system must be either solvent or not. This should not even be an issue. I side with those who believe it is solvent and can remain so for a long time, although granted it does need some changes, as those submitted by Senator Sanders, for example. And, as it has little or nothing to do with the deficit, it should be treated independently of the deficit issue. Why do I side with those who believe in the system’s solvency? First, because it is common knowledge that Republicans have tried to eliminate Social Security since its inception in 1935, for more than 70 years now. Second,and more importantly, because Republicans lie. They lie about everything, but I believe they lie more about Social Security than any other topic. It is quite obviously not a Ponzi scheme and to claim it is, is a flat out lie. It is not a form of socialism as the beneficiaries have faithfully paid into the system all their working lives so it is money actually owed to them. The system is not bankrupt but has at the moment a surplus. It is true there will be fewer workers to pay into the system, but this can be corrected by the Sanders proposal or other means. To claim there are is no money, only I.O.U.’s, is, in a rather strange way almost correct, but an interpretation that if allowed to stand would not only bankrupt Social Security but most of the entire world as well. The so-called I.O.U.’s are actually U.S. Treasury bonds, widely regarded around the world as the safest investment there is, which is precisely why so many other countries buy them even now during bad times. You could describe this as a system of I.O.U.’s because in a sense that is what government bonds are, a promise to pay based upon the good faith, trust, and credit of the U.S. Government. Thus if the Social Security funds, backed by Treasury notes, are not considered as genuine, virtually the whole world would be crippled beyond belief.

Personally, I do not understand why Republicans are so opposed to Social Security. It has worked splendidly for over 70 years (with some minor adjustments here and there), is very well administered, helps keep the elderly and needy out of unnecessary poverty, and, in fact, contributes substantially to the ongoing economy. It is hard for me to understand how anyone could be opposed to such a program. But, then, I don’t understand why Republicans are opposed to a minimum wage, food stamps, unemployment insurance, universal health care, and everything else that might make life more bearable for the middle class and the poor. Their stated objections, as above, are simply not true, but they repeat them ad nauseam, just as they repeat by rote, “lower taxes, smaller government.” I guess that’s it, they oppose Social Security mainly just because it is a government program, and, as in the Saint Ronnie philosophy, anything government is bad. Try to imagine what things would look like without Social Security. It would, I assure you, not be a pretty picture. One of the original objections to Social Security was that it would eliminate jobs, but Roosevelt argued to the contrary, by encouraging people to retire earlier it would in fact create jobs. I believe that would be true even now if the eligibility age for Social Security was actually lowered rather than raised. This, of course, is heresy for Republicans, who apparently believe everyone should work longer for lower wages, no benefits, including health care, so millionaires and billionaires can add to their already bloated fortunes. Hey, it’s the American way. The minute Republicans bring up Social Security as an “entitlement” or as linked to the deficit, or as a program subject to other budgetary matters they should be immediately told “no,” it is not even a matter for discussion in those contexts.

They want the federal government controlling Social Security like it's some kind of federal program.

George W. Bush

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