Right wing Republicans have tried to convince people that the Social Security system is going broke, and that they will never see a penny of their contribution. Their propaganda campaign nearly succeeded as a newly minted President Bush came close to convincing Congress to adopt private investment plans early in his first term. Then the stock market dropped, and the far right — for the time being, anyway — dropped their harebrained scheme as well.
EVEN back in the late 1990s, when the likes of Newt Gingrich were declaring Social Security would “go broke,” promoting a privatization plan to replace it — even back then the Social Security system was actually taking in $80 billion a year more than it’s spending.
According to the Social Security trustees’ own report, the system would be solvent for the next 75 years — long after most of you reading this will dead — if we increased the payments by a mere 2.2 percent, (a bit over one percent coming from your paycheck, and the other percent from your employer). Hardly the makings of a crisis. As The Nation said in one of the few intelligent reports on the issue “Social Security privatization is not so much a movement as an attempted heist, robbing Americans of perfectly good social insurance.” (Check it out, http://www.TheNation.com)
The way the money managers and think tanks have created the myth that the Social Security system is “going broke” ought to be a bigger news story than the phony crisis itself. Many reporters have admiringly and stupidly repeated whatever the think tanks like the Cato Institute and the Concord Coalition and a pack of self-serving pundits and politicians have said about the “crisis.”
The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, in an article by Carolyn Lochhead back in the late 90s, accepted without a word of doubt the proposition that Social Security was in such awful shape that privatization was the only way to save it. Lochhead described how the plan is already on the drawing board and how, “under total privatization, workers would still pay about 12.5 percent of their incomes in Social Security payroll taxes, but instead of going to the government, the money would be invested in a private account wholly owned by each individual.” (Note the willful distortion in the statement that the money goes to “the government”: in fact the government redistributes the money using an overhead of only one percent, incidentally — about ten times less than what pension fund managers scoop off the top). Other commentators point to Chile, of all places, as an example of successful privatization of a social security system. Isn’t it odd that these proud patriots would take a poor South American country trying to emerge from dictatorship as a example for the U.S. Makes you wonder what they’ll recommend next. Serbia’s population control policies through ethnic warfare. Mobutu’s benevolent dictatorship? Mexico’s one-party system?
The New York Times, to take another example of media slobbering and licking the hands of think tankers, is also busy creating the panic and prescribing the private solution. And, unfortunately, when the Times says something, it gets quoted all over the galaxy and soon becomes a brand new Truth or at least an Enduring Trend. For example, a review praising the ideas of privatization in a book by investment banker Peter Peterson, the Times actually called his proposal to raise the retirement age a “sensible” idea.
In other words, the message is that if we don’t accept privatization, then we’ll have to make some serious adjustments. The way to save Social Security is simply to retire later, leaving enough money to go around. Obviously if you’re good and dead before you’ve had a chance to take out too big a chunk of change you won’t be a drain on the system. Or better yet, if you don’t live long enough to collect anything that you paid in, there’ll be plenty left to keep the system in the black. Translated, this means “work for your retirement until you die. You’ll get a glorious week of total retirement on the IVs before they pull your plug.” Those brilliant trend-setters at the Times didn’t see anything preposterous in this idea. The only possible drawback to this proposal is if the chemical companies invent enough drugs or new body parts to keep us all immortal, in which case, they’d probably tell us we’d have to literally to WORK FOREVER to keep the system solvent!
What the Times didn’t bother to mention was that their darling “authority” Peterson, is a major crusader for privatization and a donor to several of the groups that have been pushing privatization, including Third Millennium and Concord Coalition.
So, the next time somebody tells you that the Social Security System is failing and they’ll never get a nickel from it, ask them just where the hell they got this idea. I have yet to meet anybody who could name a reliable source for this myth.
The reason for creating the panic is that the Wall Street investors are itching to get their hands on all that Social Security money so they can rake off big fees for managing it while they pump it into corporations. Such a move would give corporations even more control over the world than theyalready have. Instead of what we now have — a fund maintained by the government to pay disabled people and retirees, Social Security would become a giant stock portfolio. Obviously, this would make the whole system completely dependent on how well the corporations are doing. If you think it’s already hard enough to keep big business in line, well just imagine the privatized future where you’ll hear the excuse, “but we can’t stop the Megatex Corporation from releasing toxic fumes because that will reduce its profits and cut into your own private retirement fund! Why that’s cutting off the fumes to spite your nose. We can’t force the Megatex Corporation to pay more than minimum wage because that will reduce their earnings and in the long run cut into your own pension.” “What do you mean, you want to boycott Nike because it exploits child labor? The profit from child labor of today is your retirement for tomorrow.”
In other words, what’s good for corporate America is good for you. “Shut up and eat your Big Mac. We’ve got a significant share of your privatized portfolio invested in Ronald McDonald. And quit bitching about that oil slick Mobil just released. The only petrochemical that you ought to consider is the grease in your fries.” “And hey, you young folks, instead of squandering your hard earned money on some miserable old retired geezer that you don’t even know and who’s about to croak anyway, hand your loot over to something Truly Immortal, a corporation like Philip Morris or Disney or Archer Daniels Midland. Think about yourself.”
So, instead of equality, and one for all and all for one that is the benefit of the Social Security system we now have, it will be all for big business and self. Forget about the other guy and forget about working conditions and the environment all these outdated moral questions. “What’s good for General Motors is good for America,” as auto magnate Charles Wilson said many years ago when he was Eisenhower’s secretary of defense. Don’t complain about things like the fact that U.S. businesses make $40 billion worth of weapons for export. Your private portfolio needs those investments in the defense industry. Want to cut your own throat? Shut up and scarf another Big Mac. Stocks just went up. What are you, a friggin’ anorexic? It’s good for you and it’s good for business. What, you’re worried about too many Big Macs raising your cholesterol count? You think all that grease’ll give you cancer? Don’t you know anything about the economy? We NEED heart disease. Your privatized retirement fund depends on heart disease. It has billions invested in medical equipmentand pharmaceutical corporations. The sicker you get the more money you’ll have for your retirement. If you people don’t get busy and clog up them arteries and turn loose a few more cancer cells busy you’re cutting your own throats and reducing the potential value of your private pension fund. What? Now you’re fussing about premature private death? That’s a small sacrifice to make for a private system that provides for a secure private retirement.”