Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Social Security Scam

Dubyah has his (our) American Express card out again. This time he wants to "fix" the Social Security System.

Digging an even deeper hole of debt so as to create personal investment accounts for younger workers, Bush is claiming to stablize a system that is "going bankrupt." It's not so much what he says about it, but rather what he doesn't say that I find most persuasive. Things like "Standing to my left is the Executive Director of the Society of Actuaries and to my right is the President of the American Academy of Actuaries and they both stand behind this proposal."

Or ... "Here is a letter from ..."
or "According to ..."

Nope ... nothing. Why? Because despite the Texas two-step that allows Bush to stand at his podium, banging his fist and taunting "Just look at the math!" the simple and elegant truth is, the actuaries who advise the administration have told him that they system needs only minor adjustment to remain solvent. The "problem" that Bush is so anxious to fix threatens only to reduce benefits -- bankruptcy is simply not in the picture.

It's so simple, YOU can do it. Just go the American Academy of Actuaries' web site and play "The Social Security Game." I don't want to ruin the game for you, but if you raise the retirement age to 70 (more than reasonable from someone who can expect to live to 80) and introduce means testing so that those whose retirement income is over $50,000 will receive a reduced benefit, you'll have fixed it. Period.

The argument against later retirement almost always falls completely onto the issue of fairness for workers whose jobs are physically demanding. Somehow having a 64 and a half year-old woman stocking shelves is okay, but if she's 69, we're horrified. Jack Nicholson and Jane Fonda will be 68 this year. Should we pull out the wheelchair now? How about Goldie Hawn? She'll be 60. Not only should they keep working, they should not receive the same social security benefit as someone who made $20,000 in the most prosperous year of his or her life.

For those retiring in in 2042, my response is two-fold. First, when you're that age and have been doing physical work (including waiting tables) your body is probably in better shape than that of your counterpart who's sitting at a computer. He's the one more likely to get sicker and die sooner.

If I had known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself.
Lesson for young workers: You will and you should.

If the federal government really wants to to those young workers and their young kids a living-longer-living-better favor that will pay off in 2042, they should put the freakin' money back into physical education and nutritious school lunches.

In 40 years, the trends in our economy toward service over physically produced products will have advanced even further. We not only don't know anything about what we will look like in terms of our health, we have NO idea what our grandchildren will be doing for a living or what we will be retiring FROM. When I left high school (less than 30 years ago) there was no teacher or guidance counselor who could have told me that my livelihood would come from providing communications consulting and services via the Internet, that my largest clients would be thousands of miles away and that this would be practical because I could talk to them every day on the phone for an unlimited time without spending any more on my phone bill.

If the president were a little more on the ball about America's working and online life, he would have a healthier respect for how unknowable these questions are. Heck, when he first ran for president in 2000, nobody knew what the heck a BLOG was ... yet in 2004 blogs played a significant role in the election.

Finally, we should realize that our view of work and its meaning is changing. For many, the continuation of meaningful work means the continuation of a high quality of life. What's the hurry to end that?


felix said...

It's even easier than that, Jean. Raise the retirement age to only 67 and reduce benefits for those with more than $50K income, and you have more than solved the problem.

There's a great article in Newsweek about this:

Both the Dems and Republicans are lying about Social Security.

Jean Bolduc said...

Good point, Ed. Thanks for sharing the link.

Even more to the point I suppose is that Bush's plan won't solve the problem that needs fixing ... but that's not his goal, I reckon. Could it be that he things they're red states for all that debt?

felix said...

Well, I can only speculate, of course. But it could be that his private investment strategy has nothing to do with making SS solvent. After all since it only takes money out of the program, there has to be some other reason, right? By getting a percentage of the money into the stock market, he puts more buying pressure on stocks, driving up or at least stabilizing the market. The money funds more private capital investment, and makes people less dependent on traditional SS programs.

None of that sounds inherently bad. But the second part of his strategy could be that all of this makes the traditional part of SS more of a welfare program than a retirement program. And if it can be framed that way in the long run, the Republicans have had good success in attacking those types of programs.

I for one am not planning to get one cent from SS for my retirement. Of course, I'll be pissed if that is the case, but I'm erring on the safe side. In my opinion anyone who relies on SS is either a foolish financial planner, or someone without the means to save on their own. So SS is almost in the welfare program category now, as far as I'm concerned. The more Bush can move people into that category, the easier it will be for him to further gut the program in the long run. Because, I hate to say it, people tend to be less concerned when it's not their own wallet being hit.

Wally P said...

I work for a huge company. They really don't like the old folks anymore. They do love the freshouts (engineers) however. But they are not fresh for long. They have laid off 1000's of people since 1998. We do have a good 401K unless one chooses to put the minimum in. SS would be nice but not a necessity. I am in the mid 50's and in relatively good shape. Most of my friends around here doubt that our jobs will still be here in 3 -4 years. That is why I would not like to see the retirement age adjusted any higher.