Being of a contrarian nature, I’m going to tread a bit off the beaten path and tackle the scare tactics that are being pushed by both politician and the ever-rapacious Wall Street regarding Baby Boomers and retirement.
The claim is that Social Security is not going to be there for us future geezers, and that we, like the proverbial grasshopper, have squandered our resources enjoying life and will now have to pay for it with a miserable old age of poverty and struggle–or at least with 10 harsh years of intense enforced saving.
First of all, let’s put to rest the premises.
Whatever the Liar-in Chief is saying on the stump, Social Security will be there for those who will start hitting retirement age in 2011, and it will be there for all those who follow them. The reason is simple: We Boomers are so numerous and so versed in the politics of protest (even if it has been a while) that we will make benefits be whatever we think the need to be when it’s our turn to collect. It may well be that in the end this will wind up costing the next generation–our kids, I might point out–a bit more in taxes. But who among them is likely to begrudge their elders a decent retirement? And who among them would want to be responsible for us financially all on their own? (As often as younger people have been quoted complaining about the amount of their SS taxes, have you ever heard anyone complain about their parents’ Social Security check being too large?)
Second, most of us didn’t “squander” our earnings. Most of us, in fact, have been living through a period of speed-up and payroll squeeze the likes of which has not been seen since the Great Depression. When I was a child in the 1950s, one parent (usually the father) was typically able to earn a decent living for a middle-class family. By the late 1970s, when most of us Boomers were starting our families, thanks to the Federal Reserve and corporate-dominated government policies that gutted protection for labor organizing (and to a somnolent, complicit and pro-war trade union movement more concerned with preserving leaders’ perks than with organizing and fighting for genuine progressive politics), inflation was allowed to outstrip wage gains. By the 1980s, it took two working parents just to make ends meet in most middle-class families.
Since then, things have only gotten worse, with most middle and working-class families now sinking deeply into debt just to finance the basics.
The good news is that all this need not mean the poorhouse for the ’60s generation. Nor do we have to start scrimping on ourselves and our nearly grown kids to stave off disaster, as all the bank and brokerage ads keep warning as they try to hustle us for our money.
All we need to do is go back to thinking collectively, the way we used to do so easily back in the day.
Remember those collective housing arrangements, those ad-hoc “communes,” those free-wheeling living arrangements we used to enjoy when we were younger, before we bought into the American Fantasy of the house, yard, two-cars and personal swing set?
It’s time to reject the atomization of society that has been pushed on us by Madison Avenue, and to get back to those happier, more communal days.
Forget nursing homes! We need communes! By pooling our resources–our meager savings, our vehicles, our Social Security checks, and our diminished but surely complementary abilities and skills–we can live well on far less than what the slick money managers at Citibank or American Express claim we will need.
By returning to collective thinking, rejoining food coops, planting gardens in community plots, sharing cars and rides, etc., etc., we might also reconnect with our political past, when we stood shoulder to shoulder against the American war machine, against racism, against sexism, and for a better, more progressive, more humane world.
As a generation, we may have lost our way, but it’s reversible. If we return to what we once had, if we pick up where we left off, we might even start to turn this rapidly decaying, anti-human, and increasingly fearful, selfish, intolerant and undemocratic nation around, and make it a livable place for our kids and our grandchildren.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org