Trying to Kill Social Security

by RON JACOBS

It seems like every few months alarms are sounded warning US workers that Social Security is going bankrupt.  Oftentimes, the follow up to these alarms includes a warning that the only way to save the system is by turning all or part of the funds involved over to Wall Street investment houses like Goldman Sachs.  Usually the alarms are sounded by right wing politicians from the Republican Party.  In recent years however, this cacophony of lies has been assisted by more and more Democrats.

According to Eric Laursen in his new book titled The People’s Pension: the Struggle to Defend Social Security Since Reagan, the desire to end what is Washington’s most successful government program has been underway since Social Security’s inception.  It has only intensified in recent decades.  As the title suggests, that intensification sharpened in 1981, the year Ronald Reagan became president.  As anyone with an understanding of neoliberal capitalism and the role played by investment houses in this stage of capitalism knows, that year coincides more or less with an increased interest in Social Security funds by those houses.  Why?  Because their required growth requires more funds to invest and there are billions of dollars in funds sitting in the Social Security reserves.

Laursen provides the reader with a brief history of the philosophy behind Social Security.  Harkening to the writings of 19th century anarchists and leftists, he describes part of the impetus behind Social Security as coming from the ideas of mutual aid; where every citizen is cared for.  More specifically, he traces the institution of the social security system to the Townsend clubs begun in the 1930s by Dr. Francis Townsend of California.  It was Townsend’s idea that old people should be guaranteed an income based on their work and funded by taxes.  His reasoning was simple, if senior citizens had an income, they could remain consumers, thereby helping
stimulate the economy.  Millions joined these clubs, exerting political pressure that led to the Social Security Act of 1937.  Naturally, this act was fervently opposed by many corporate executives and the wealthy as being socialist and un-American.

Most of today’s opponents are not so blunt in their assessment.  However, their proposals to privatize the system suggests that they too oppose a government program that does not benefit their corporate benefactors.  Instead, they would rather turn it over to the Goldman Sachs of the world.  This desire is certainly related to the substantial campaign donations they receive from Goldman Sachs and their cohorts.  One expects right wing politicians opposed to any government expenditures not related to benefitting private industry and the Pentagon to oppose Social Security.  It is the Democratic opponents that deserve our real attention.  Laursen’s history is also a history of the gradual shrinking of support among Democrats and other so-called liberals.

The People’s Pension puts the beginning of the current assault on Social Security in the lap of the Reagan administration.  Laursen makes it very clear that the opponents of this program are not interested in saving money, a fairer distribution of benefits, or helping the elderly.  They are serving an ideological agenda of social Darwinism.  Furthermore, every attack on Social Security is nothing more or less than an attempt by the corporate world and its right wing supporters to end it once and for all.  Laursen further points out that the arguments used by Social Security’s opponents never address the economic consequences of ending the program; they only draw up flimsy prognostications of disaster should the program continue.  Calls for privatization are nothing more than one more method of corporate America to take public monies and privatize the profits while insuring the continued socialization of the risks and loss.  As Laursen points out, this is exactly what is done by the defense industry and any scheme to privatize Social Security would do the same thing.

A fact that is not very well known outside of certain circles is that the model for privatization promoted by the so-called supply side economists was developed in the fascist Chile of Augusto Pinochet.  Championed by many Republicans and their banker/corporate sponsors, this model is ultimately more expensive than keeping things as they are and its greatest benefits are to the banking industry.  Furthermore, this and other privatization schemes assume an ever-growing capitalist economy—a phenomenon less certain than it was before the crash of 2008.  Despite this, politicians continue to include Social Security in their gunsights.  Whether it Alan Simpson calling Social Security a “Milk Cow with 310 Million Tits,” or so-called Blue Dog Democrats suggesting that benefits be changed, the assault on the program never goes away. 

Eric Laursen has written a comprehensive and exhaustive history of the Social Security program in the United States.  The People’s Pension is an honest, detailed and even eye-opening discussion of the program’s origins and continuing efforts to provide elderly and disabled Americans with a livable income.  Equally important, it is a discussion of the attempts to alter and ultimately destroy the program by forces whose only interest seems to be profit and the elimination of any government institution that guarantees every citizen worker an income in their old age.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire