Two Points About the Upcoming Social Security Debate

Although to dignify it with the term ‘debate’ is akin to calling the grunts of rutting water buffalo ‘music.’ Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear that there is a good chance that, either in the lame duck session or in the next presidential term, Social Security will come under assault (Again. Intelligent Designer, this gets tiresome). In an excellent post, Lynn Paramore makes two key points. First, raising the retirement age is a disaster, despite the claims of the technobrat punditocracy (mark my words, they, especially Yglesias, will be superb useful idiots in all of this; boldface mine):

Today, when people have fewer kids, not to mention shoddy retirement plans and disappearing pensions, there is very little to come between you and economic disaster in your golden years. Except Social Security. Today, Social Security benefits represent about 39 percent of the income of the elderly. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 45 percent of Americans over 65 would plunge into poverty without Social Security.

Taxed-advantaged 401(k)s and IRAs will help the affluent, but they will not do enough for middle and working class people in retirement. Plans to cut the Social Security favored by Bowles and his partner in crime Alan Simpson, including raising the retirement age, are nothing more than bad policies based on economic falsehoods. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman pointed out recently in the New York Times, raising the retirement age is “totally at odds with the reality of an America in which rising inequality is reflected not just in the quality of life but in its duration.” Life expectancy, he reminds us, is actually falling for a substantial part of the nation.

All you need is one illness, for you or a loved one, and suddenly just getting to sixty-five while working becomes a real struggle. To force people in that position to make it to 70 is just cruel. And as Paramore notes, utterly unnecessary:

When Social Security raiders claim that the program needs to be “fixed,” they are getting out their crystal balls and talking about 2033, when, according to forecasts by the trustees of the Social Security trust fund there might – key word, might – be a shortfall in revenues against predicted claims. And that’s only in the context of a very conservative view of economic growth. It might be reasonable to imagine that there could be adjustments that need to made a couple of decades down the road — such as making the rich pay social security taxes on the money they make over the current low ceiling of just over $100,000 — but there is no justification for doing anything now. The Raiders of Your Lost Retirement use the excuse of the Great Recession, which destroyed jobs and therefore revenue, to jump on the program and start shredding it.

I’ve made that point many times before, and I’m glad to see others figuring this out: Social Security will not be in crisis unless the economy historically underperforms for about 25 years straight. Not a few years, but for 25 – 30 years. And even if that happens, only minor changes are required to maintain payouts. To put this another way, if the ‘crisis’ does materialize, it will be part of a much larger and more serious economic problem–lack of economic growth for decades.

So the obvious thing to do is fiscal austerity now, thereby killing future economic potential. Well, it’s obvious to the eroticoausterians, but to most people who aren’t fucking morons, that doesn’t make any sense. And we’re right.

That our political system (along with the sycophantic political press corps) will spend a great deal of time and energy focusing on the non-crisis of Social Security ‘solvency’ while ignoring the construction of a ‘lost generation’ of Americans speaks to that system’s utter degeneracy. This is how republics fall.

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1 Response to Two Points About the Upcoming Social Security Debate

  1. becca says:

    We just need to accept retirement age as a sliding scale. Although it’d be infernally challenging to implement fairly, it’d be hard to be less fair than the status quo.
    Judging from my family medical history, if I *don’t* get cancer, I’ll be able to work to a very different retirement age than if I *do*.
    My aunt is 7 years older than my uncle. She seems a bit tired of working, but makes a great wage managing engineers. She can likely work for another few years, but the ideal solution from her perspective (and probably her employers) would probably be to work “part time”, with less crazy travel (she “commutes” from Buffalo NY to Dekalb IL), and to get on Medicare. But my uncle needs medical care, and won’t qualify for Medicare soon enough. In part he needs to get a surgery that his doctor won’t give him as long as he’s working, because he’ll just throw his shoulder out again as long as he’s dairy farming. My uncle is the one that’s nearer the limit for his career and his body, but he’s “not old enough” for retirement. How does any of this make sense?
    So we need reforms now, just not for fiscal reasons.

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