Saturday, January 15, 2005

Hialeah Dreaming

Yesterday, slacktivist examined a piece written by Jonathan Rauch for the National Journal in which Rauch posits that the ultimate purpose behind the Repulican push to alter Social security is to re-engineer the public's perception of the duties of government and wean it from expecting social assistance for events which can be forseen.
Fred interprets Rauch as speaking for himself in calling SS "welfare", and then goes on to make a good case for why it isn't:

"Franklin D. Roosevelt was adamant, in creating Social Security, that the system was not welfare. To avoid that perception, or that accusation, he insisted that the flat-rate payroll taxes that fund the program be capped.
Most Americans don't realize that there's a cap on payroll taxes because most Americans don't make more than $87,900 a year.
Those who do, however, get a nice little tax break on their 87,901st dollar, and on every penny they earn beyond that...
Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. You want to pretend it's welfare? Fine, let's pretend it's welfare. That means eliminating the cap on payroll taxes. And while we're at it, since this is a "welfare" program we're talking about now, let's keep in place the limit on new benefits for salary above that cap.
This would be a fundamental change -- from social insurance to social welfare. And it would likely create a boom in creative new forms of non-wage (and thus nontaxed) income. But the resulting infusion of revenue would ensure the complete solvency of the program until long after the last-living baby boom widow was buried."
But after reading the NJ article, I'm not sure whether Rauch was agreeing with conservatives that it is a form of welfare, or whether he was putting that forth as part of an example of conservative argument against excessive interference with public life.

That doesn't mean there isn't plenty of fodder for exasperation in it, most especially regarding the comforting myths about class and human behavior with which it enfolds itself. These are assumptions that we see parroted in the press and on websites everyday in statements by administration officials, "experts" and opinion-hurlers, until sheer repetition gives them the sheen of truth. For instance:
    That investment will naturally give higher returns than SS if one accepts the increased risks. Well, sure, if you put your money into volatile stocks that can also offer the potential for bankuptcy if you guess wrong. If you want to safeguard your old age with stocks equivalent in safety to SS, you're going to find that they pay just about the same as SS, plodding along unsexily, day after day. But those safe bets are a lot less common than they used to be, as stocks get wilder and wilder.

    That we need to encourage a "culture of saving and personal responsibility", improve work habits and reduce crime, and that SS privatization will do it. Guess what? Crime is down, has been going down, and shows every indication of continuing to go down.
    In addition, Americans are working more hours, are more productive, and have less leisure than citizens of any other developed nation. They are kept at the grindstone by businesses that refuse to hire needed additional workers in order to save on wages and benefits, then overwork their existing workforces to make up for it. This is the reason business pushed so hard last year for a redefinition of the "supervisory" employee, so that rank and file workers could be made to work overtime without receiving the overtime pay they once did.
    As for class warfare, what do they know about it? Someone dares mention that the policies of the administration have consistently favored the wealthy and attacked the weakest among us, and the right-wing, in its best Orwellian language, boo-hoos that it's "class warfare". Someone once cited a peasant rebellion in Britain against a local lord that culminated in the rape and dismemberment of his wife and children in front of his eyes, after which he was roasted alive on a spit. That, said he, was class warfare. The fact that so many of us have sat slack-jawed in front of the television watching this parade of outrages every night and not lifted one finger to redress them, even on our own behalf, is the amazing thing, and the only thing that prevents any real class warfare from occuring.

    That involvement of the masses in the ownership of their own investment funds will make them more like the average Wall Street habituee, and create millions more Republican-prone voters. Oh, yes. And we'll just be rife with buying and selling, and merging and trading, and then we'll all hold hands and sing as the next right-wing extremist mounts the presidential throne. Hmmm. Old ladies with a pittance in fast-dwindling blue chips will suddenly feel solidarity with Warren Buffett? When's the last time these guys had to stretch a paycheck from one week to the next, or weighed the merits of spending more on one kind of cereal over another based on how long it would last or how many it would feed? How many leave bills or utilities partially- or unpaid from month to month to pay other, more pressing debts? How many haven't seen a movie or bought new clothes for months because the money just wasn't there? And how many put off the doctor, or dentist, because there are more important things to buy, and they'll just wait and see if the pain goes away by itself? And they think these people, because a change in SS frees up $100-$200 a month, are going to sink the extra into a pie-in-the-sky someday crapshoot? And even if they did, who is going to teach them how? The government itself, that can't even understand or control the consequences of its own economic decisions?
It would be wonderful if the social engineers and media loudmouths that hold forth so glibly on other people's lives would step outside and spend a little time living them. But as that isn't going to happen, I have my own proposal for applying their principles for SS change to the rest of the US budget:
Let's take, say, the revenue for highways and transportation, and give it to the Secretary of the Treasury, and send him down to Hialeah to see if he can't double the national take before sending it along for disbursement to the states. If he loses, hey, that's what happens when you live in a Darwinian idyll of personal responsiblity.

Update: And while we're on the subject (and with an ear to the ground on this trumped up bullshit over the Dean/bloggers issue), why is it that taxpayer money is being used by the SS Administration to flog a political agenda for Bushco? There's grumbling in the ranks, though.


Anonymous said...

I think you're on to something here. Why stop with social security? Let's put the entire US budget into equities. In fact, let's eliminate fixed investments altogether.


Riggsveda said...

The slot machines are coming to Pennsylvania! We could convert the state budget into quarters, give every legislator a bag, and send 'em on down to spend a day or two investing in America. We're already taking care of our old people's transportation needs with the lotto. It's the logical extension.