24 January 2011

Ted McLaughlin : Americans Don't Want to Gamble With Social Security

Cartoon from Donklephant.

Americans aren't buying the
lies about social security
New polls show that idea of cutting Social Security is not popular with the American public.
By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / January 24,2011

During the Great Depression one of the hardest hit groups of people was the elderly. And it was not just the poor who were destitute -- many who thought they had planned for their "golden years" found that the crash of Wall Street and the failure of thousands of banks had wiped them out. President Roosevelt, with the help of many other Democrats, decided this would not happen again. They created the Social Security program to protect the elderly.

And since its inception Social Security has been a huge success. It has guaranteed that the elderly in this country have at least a modicum of income and don't have to eat from dumpsters or live on the streets just because they can no longer work (and it has opened up jobs for younger people because the elderly are able to retire rather than work until they die).

But the Republicans don't like Social Security. They opposed its creation and have consistently tried to abolish it throughout its existence. The latest incarnation of their opposition to Social Security is the idea of "privatizing" it. Instead of keeping Social Security funds in a safe government account, they want to create private accounts (which Americans would be forced to pay into). Then their rich buddies on Wall Street would be able to get their greedy fingers on that money in the guise of "investing" it for ordinary Americans.

The greedmongers on Wall Street would make millions in fees and bonuses off the money of ordinary Americans, but there would be no guarantee that the money would be there when a person retired. When Wall Street melted down at the end of 2007, trillions of dollars disappeared from the market and anyone depending on that money for their retirement was just out of luck -- and naturally, small investors (ordinary Americans) were hurt the worst. This is a perfect example of why "privatized" accounts are a terrible idea.

But the Republicans haven't given up. They have a couple of new lies they are trying to spread about Social Security in order to get their greedy hands on that money. The first is that Social Security must be cut because of the growing federal deficit. What they don't tell anyone is that cutting Social Security would do nothing to help the federal deficit. Social Security is not a part of the growing national debt. Social Security is separate and draws only from money paid by all workers into the Social Security fund (and that money can only be used to pay Social Security benefits).

The second lie is that because of the large number of "baby boomers" who are just now starting to retire and receive their Social Security benefits, the program is going broke and cannot support the payment of these benefits. The truth is that the program can keep paying full benefits until at least 2027, and minor revisions could fund the program far into the future -- like reducing benefits for the wealthy or removing the cap on the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes.

It has been my fear recently that people might start believing these lies and allow ignorant politicians to reduce benefits or destroy Social Security altogether (by privatization); after all, if you repeat a lie long and loud enough some people will come to believe it. Fortunately, the American people aren't buying this nonsense -- at least not yet.

A new poll done for The New York Times and CBS News shows that most people aren't buying into the lies. The poll was conducted January 15th through the 19th, and has a margin of error of three points. Here is what the poll showed:

Which of the following would you be willing to change to cut government spending?

Social Security...............13%
No opinion...............10%

If you had to choose one, which of the following would you be willing to change to keep Social Security financially sound?

Reduce benefits for future retirees...............8%
Raise retirement age to receive full benefits...............18%
Reduce benefits for the wealthy...............66%
No opinion...............8%

And the best part is that these feelings cross party lines. Even a significant majority of rank-and-file Republicans aren't buying in to the lies of their leaders. Here are the numbers broken down by party affiliation:

Reduce benefits for future retirees

Raise retirement age to receive full benefits


Reduce benefits for the wealthy


The poll didn't ask about raising or abolishing the cap on the amount of income the Social Security tax would apply to. I wish it had. This one action would solve any problems Social Security has, and it would make it much fairer since the working class pays this tax on all their income while the wealthy pay the tax on only a tiny portion of their income.

One thing is clear though -- the American people don't support raising the retirement age or reducing benefits for all recipients. I hope the politicians are listening.

[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger.]

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