Thursday, March 03, 2005

Let’s Play “Uncle Sam Says!”

March 3, 2005

I had to write about it sooner or later. You knew it was coming eventually. Until now, I’ve only taken the occasional pot shot at Bush’s new obsession with raping and pillag—err, reforming—social security, but the time has finally come for an actual discussion. I must preface it with a disclaimer: I’m not an economist. I haven’t even taken Intro to Economics (though I have taken Dr. Picht’s excellent Law & Economics class), and I don’t claim to know diddly squat about the finer points of government-sponsored health care and retirement in this country. But I do know that government-mediated privately-owned retirement plans are a ludicrous idea. The new plan amounts to the government taking your money and forcing you to deposit it with a specific bank or lose it to the “general welfare.”

Benefits from your taxes paid to someone else constitute a financial loss when you have the option of making them pay out to you; if you can get your money back from Uncle Sam, you certainly should. Any sane individual with an option between placing a chunk of his taxes in a “personalized” retirement account and paying more money to the government without benefit increases will choose the former seven days a week. The market forces at work mandate opting in. This is not a choice; this is using economics to force the American people to hand over control of their retirement money to the government.

I’m not going to make any pronouncements about the 2042 bankruptcy date the Republicans keep waving around, but I do agree that Social Security has some problems as currently implemented. The retirement age was set at 65 because that was the average lifespan in the thirties when Social Security was established. Today, the average life lasts nearly a decade longer, but the system has not adapted to keep things in balance. Remember, social security was conceived as a safety net to keep a small number of indigent elderly from starving. Today, more advanced (more expensive) medicine and longer life spans are straining the system’s limits, and the benefit cuts involved in Bush’s “solution” pretty much eviscerate the program.

In fact, last term Bush made it quite clear he doesn’t give a damn about public health funding. The Republicans mocked Howard Dean’s universal health care plan, spent the social security trust fund (which is one of the reasons the system will supposedly go broke!) and passed the infamous Medicare bill that actually prevents the government from negotiating the bulk rate drug prices available to private companies. Instead of enacting a simple measure like gradual fluctuations in retirement age based on average lifespan or a prescription drug bill that’s not a huge corporate [ROOSTER] in the ass of the American taxpayer, Bush wants to use the government to force individuals into paying their own way. This is completely contrary to the nature of the program and places the low-income individuals who really need the help at a serious disadvantage.

An important aspect of the new system is that these accounts will be inheritable and largely free from all the sticky “death taxes” that come with the passing of capital between generations, yet another wealth-consolidating weapon in what is shaping up to be a Republican war on the middle class. This plan works against liberal goals by decreasing benefits and it works against conservative goals by decreasing personal choice (though it claims to offer more options, it is still a government-controlled privately owned account). Bush is once again blurring the line between business and government to use public money to hand out private favors to fiscal buddies in his Neo-Conservative base. EVIL, BAD, NAUGHTY, STUPID BUSHIES!

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