FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Social Security Scare Tactics

by DAVE LINDORFF

Get ready kids. It’s time for more scare stories about Social Security.

The corporate press is weighing in with  dire warnings that this year, six years ahead of what had been predicted only a few years ago, the Social Security system would be paying out more in benefits than it takes in from the payroll tax. The reason for this earlier-than-anticipated event is the Great Recession, the paper explained.

Well yeah. If you were 62, or 65, and you had lost your job, with no likelihood of it’s coming back, wouldn’t you, once your unemployment checks ran out, opt to start your retirement earlier than planned, so you’d at least have some money coming in each month?  Oh, and with 10 percent of the work force currently unemployed (actually close to 21 percent if you count the people who have given up looking for a nonexistent job, and those who have taken some low-paid part-time work out of desperation), there is a lot less money being paid into the Social Security Trust Fund. So with beneficiaries rising faster than anticipated, and the total national payroll in sharp decline, of course things have gone negative for Social Security earlier than originally anticipated.

So what to do about it?

Hank Paulson and Pete Peterson are both calling for benefit cutbacks, an older retirement age and other attacks on the system. Paulson of course is the the guy who as Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush, helped engineer the real estate bubble that brought the economy to its knees, and who then engineered the sweet deal that helped his former company, Goldman Sachs, come out of the crisis as the nation’s biggest bank, fattened by tens of billions of taxpayer bailout dollars. Pete Peterson, the former ad exec turned self-described economic guru has been a perpetual doomsayer about Social Security, calling for its privatization.

But really, what’s the crisis?

A wave of Baby Boomers is about to start retiring next year (actually for those born first, in 1946, who decided to retire early at age 62, Baby Boomer retirement began in 2008), but that’s a demographic wave that will eventually pass. In the meantime, financing the benefits for Baby Boomer retirees simply means that current workers–the Baby Boomers’ children and grandchildren–will have to pay more in payroll taxes. Or–and this is what has people like Paulson and Peterson scared–Baby Boomers and their allies among younger workers, may decide to use their unprecedented electoral clout to take those extra tax payments not out of younger workers, but out of their employers. There is, after all, no legal, theoretical or even mystical reason why the Social Security payroll tax should be split 50/50, with half being paid by the worker, and half by the employer. It could easily be a 40/60 split, with the employer paying 50 per cent more than the worker, or even a 30/70 split. That is a political question. Likewise, there is no reason on earth why the payroll tax should be set at the same percentage rate for all income levels, as it is now, instead of progressively calculated, so that high-income workers would pay a higher percentage of income into the fund than low-income workers. And finally, there is no reason why the income subject to the payroll tax (the FICA tax on your W-2 statement) should be capped (currently at $106,800), or why investment income should be exempt.

The so-called Social Security funding “crisis,” which has Republicans and many Democrats warning of the system’s looming “insolvency” as though Social Security were just another AIG, could be solved simply by just eliminating the income cap, and taxing investment income.

Oh, but the conservatives wail, if we raise the payroll tax, America will become uncompetitive, and our economy will collapse.

How then to explain Germany, where social security as a percentage of GDP is much greater than in the US (40 per cent of Germany’s adult population receive some form of government income, whether in the form of retirement payments, unemployment compensation or disability payments–far higher than in the US)? Despite its high social welfare budget, and its high wages, Germany is the second-largest exporter in the world  after China, and despite Germany’s being a huge importer of goods and services, second only to the US, overall, Germany is a net exporter.

Clearly, the problem with America’s economy is not high social security costs, and the “crisis” facing Social Security is not that it is going to “go bankrupt.” It is simply that the corporate interests in America, and the wealthy, don’t want to have to pay for the system. They want the lion’s share of the funding to be paid by ordinary workers and the poor.

The political game being played by corporate interests, Republicans, conservative Democrats, and by the corporate media, is to pretend that Social Security is just another pension system–underfunded, overburdened, and in need of downsizing. They insist the only solution is cutting benefits, raising the retirement age, and privatizing–taking away the guarantee of a monthly benefit check, and replacing it with the “miracle” of the financial markets.

American workers need to reject this campaign of misrepresentation. They need to realize that Social Security is a government income-support program, and that its benefits are not just for the elderly, but are also for the current workers, who are relieved of having to personally care for their parents and grandparents.  They need to realize that Social Security is a government program, and that it will be there for them when they want to retire, just as it is available now for today’s retirees. And they need to realize that there are many ways to finance those current and future benefits besides just raising their own and their employers’ payroll tax payments from the current 7.65 per cent each and/or raising the retirement age beyond the current 66/67 level.  We need to demand that all Americans pay the payroll tax on all income, with no caps and no exemption for investment income.

At that point, the fake “crisis” will be over, and we can focus on the real crises facing us: the endless wars that our government keeps dragging us into (one advantage Germany has is that it spends only 1 per cent  of GDP on its military, compared to 5 per cent for the US), and health care (yeah, they sure didn’t solve that one with the so-called Health Care Reform Act just passed, which will still leave us spending 20 per cent of GDP on health care by 2016, up from 17.5 percent this year!).

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at dlindorff@mindspring.com

 

WORDS THAT STICK

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

More articles by:
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail