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Hullabaloo


Monday, January 31, 2005

 
If It Ain't broke Don't Fix It

There Is No Crisis is putting together a fun and informative way to deal with the Preznit's State of the Union Destroy Social Security speech. Throw a house party and tune into a conference call afterward in which someone will interpret the soaring gibberish into English and educate your party about the nightmarish future Republicans intend for you to have in your old age.

(You can even incorporate my favorite, the Dubya Drinking game, points corresponding to how many times he says freedom, liberty, ownership and "personal accounts." But serve half shots or the party will be passed out before the conference call.)

"There Is No Crisis" is the response to Bush's repeated assertions that he is trying to "save social security." It's a bold way of framing it and it puts the onus on President Inarticulate to explain a complicated policy issue. (Even when they write a good speech, he's much more believable on the "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists" kind of Hollywood dialog than making a complicated case for a particular policy.) This is good politics. The other side is on the defensive.

The key to arguing this issue is to recognize their various arguments and make them explain them. When you do that, they begin to see the outlines of a basically dishonest scheme. Here are a few ideas about handling this:

"The system is going broke"

When you're standing around the water cooler and somebody says that the system has to be fixed because it's going broke, ask them to explain why the date that the trust fund "runs out" keeps going up, from 2029 to 2042 and maybe higher even though the baby boomer retirement ages have been known for 50 years now. When they sputter, as they will, adopt the world weary derisive tone usually reserved for war hawks and law and order types and say, "Yeah, whatever. It sounds like a scam to me There's no crisis."

"Private accounts give a better return on investment"

Ask them if they agree that every portfolio needs some part of their retirement savings that isn't subject to being Enroned. And don't they think that having at least a minimal defined benefit plan is what allows people to take on more risk with their 401K's and IRA's and other investments? A prudent investor knows that everybody needs a very conservative portion of their portfolio to fall back on if they have a bad break. Isn't that really what social security is?

"The trust fund is a bunch of worthless IOU's"

Do they realize that those "worthless "IOU's" are government bonds? Those bonds are backed by the most reliable contract in the world "the full faith and credit of the Treasury of the United States of America." If government bonds are worthless then social security is the least of our problems. In fact, we should probably start burying gold in the back yard and laying in the canned goods.

"The baby boomer retirees are going to outnumber the workers and that's why the system is going broke"

Then how come Ronald Reagan signed the legislation back in 1983 that made all workers (and especially boomers in their top earning years) pay "extra" in order to pay for the baby boomer's retirements? What happened to that plan?

Then there is the big question that come back at you. It's not easy to explain, but you can do it if they'll let you finish a sentence.

"Why do they want to do this now?"

A variety of reasons, but the most important is that this is the first time since its inception that the Republicans have had the institutional power to dismantle social security. They have been against it since the day the legislation was signed and have been building this case for privatization since at least the fifties. Now that they are in power, the modern Republican party is conducting a radical economic (and foreign policy) experiment based upon their belief in laissez faire capitalism and world military domination but they have not been honest with the American people about what they are doing. We are by nature a cautious people when it comes to radical change and they know it. So they are creating "problems" and "crises" that don't exist (like weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and social security going broke) in order to persuade people that that the old ways don't work anymore and that "modern" solutions are needed.

Privatizing Social Security is a very bold step back to the future. There was once a time when Americans closing in on the end of their lives either worked until they dropped dead or lived their final years in grinding poverty if they had not been able to save enough money during their earning years. There are an infinite number of reasons why this might be so. It could happen to anyone. Social Security was a recognition that everybody needs something to fall back on in life if things don't go well. Paying into it over the course of your earning years is a small price to pay for the peace of mind in knowing that even if your 401K or your IRA or your house doesn't appreciate the way you hope, there will at least be something that will keep the wolves at bay. There is only one entity on the face of this earth that can make a guarantee like that--- the government of the richest most powerful nation on earth. We can afford to guarantee that the elderly live their final years in a dignified, decent manner. We've managed to do that for the last seventy years and there's no reason that we shouldn't be able to continue. There is no crisis. Let's move on to dealing with real problems.

If that doesn't work, give them this article by George Will. Will makes the honest Republican argument:

The president says Social Security should be reformed because it is in "crisis." That is an exaggeration. Democrats say it should not be reformed because there is no crisis. That is a non sequitur. Social Security should be reformed not because there is a crisis but because there is an opportunity.

[...]

Voluntary personal accounts will allow competing fund managers, rather than a government monopoly on income transfers from workers to retirees, to allocate a large pool of money. This will enhance the economic dynamism conducive to an open society. Personal accounts will respect individuals' autonomy and competence and will narrow the wealth gap by facilitating the accumulation of wealth -- bequeathable wealth -- by people of modest incomes.


There you have it. If you want to trust the "competing fund managers" who backed Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers with every penny of your retirement instead of leaving a modest portion with the most reliable guarantor on earth, the United States of America, then you'll love social security privatization. It'll make your elderly years very exciting and unpredictable.


Click over to There is No Crisis and sign up for a house party. I swear it's the only way to get through what is going to be the most unctuous and shockingly dishonest SOTU that's ever been given. Peggy will crawl her way back up William Kristol's keister and proclaim it a home run. Steve Forbes will probably be anchoring the CNN coverage in a Chicken Little costume. You are going to need normal people around you.


Oh, and click over to this cool Move-On ad, soon to be seen in wavering districts throughout the country.







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