I swear if I hear one more twentysomething in
a power suit smugly assure a TV interviewer
how much better they can handle their money than (snicker) Social Security, things could get ugly.
Lately, I’ve been fantasizing about storming a Starbucks armed with fully automatic banana cream pies.
"Eat this, yuppie scum!" Listening to these Young Republicans is like hearing your 18-year-old tell you
he doesn’t need a seat belt because his reflexes are so superior he couldn’t possibly have an accident.
I recently saw some puppy on CBS News boasting
about his investment acumen. I couldn’t tell if he
was another ringer like last month’s CBS poster child for Social Security "reform." They softpedaled
the fact that Tad DeHaven, who opined that he’d never see a dime due to Social Security’s inevitable
collapse, works for the National Taxpayers Union, a tycoon-funded Washington think tank devoted
to the premise that government benefit checks ruin the character of the roughly 50 percent of old-timers
with no other income. Mr. Confident Investor was 27. I couldn’t help noticing that he looked like the
"before" half of a Hair Club for Men commercial.
Which has nothing to do with anything, except
that I doubt premature baldness was part of his life plan.
But get rear-ended on the freeway and end up paralyzed? Have a stroke or disabling heart attack?
A child with cerebral palsy? Work for a company that crashes, voiding his stock options? Lose his 401(k)
in the next Enron or WorldCom fiasco? Not him, no way. He’s a winner. Social Security’s for losers.
Look, punk, it’s an insurance policy, not an IRA.
But there’s a reason we’re seeing all these boy-in-the-street
interviews, and it’s not simply polls showing that high percentages of young people believe that Social Security
is doomed. (Some also show that only 26 percent of Americans 18 to 34 read newspapers, which explains a lot.)
Presenting opinions instead of facts makes it easier to avoid mentioning that President Bush’s campaign to
"privatize" the most successful government program in U.S. history is based entirely upon shameless falsehoods.
Whoops, I’ve used obsolete terminology. "Privatize"
was last year’s buzzword. Apparently because it worried
voters that Republicans were fixing to give Social Security a ride on a Wall Street roulette wheel, the mandatory
new phrase is "personal accounts." Bush recently scolded Washington Post reporters for using the forbidden word,
only to have them show that he himself touted "privatization" just months ago.
To reiterate the tedious facts: According to the
Congressional Budget Office, the Social Security Trust Fund,
which has accumulated huge surpluses since the Reagan administration increased payroll taxes in 1983, contains
enough money to fully fund benefits until 2052. Even then, current revenues could pay 81 percent of projected
Social Security’s own actuaries predict a somewhat
earlier shortfall, based upon extremely pessimistic assumptions
about budget growth—about which more in a moment.
What we have here is an accounting problem that
Congress can solve with a few nips and tucks of the kind it’s been
making in Social Security for the last 70 years. Instead, Bush throws around words like "bankrupt," " flat broke" and
"busted." He shamefully (and falsely) tells black Americans that they’re getting screwed because they don’t live as long
as white folks. (Longevity stats reflect infant death rates more than adult life expectancy. Besides, black women outlive
white men by any measure.)
Bush’s acolytes throw around fake numbers like
Social Security’s supposed $10 trillion deficit. Know where they got
that one? They projected the system’s post-2052 shortfall to infinity. Literally. If no actuarial changes are made and the
United States endures until the end of time, there’ll be one heckuva tax bill due.
More fun with numbers: See, when the Bushies predict
shortfalls, they use the Social Security Administration’s pessimistic
1.8 percent annual economic growth projections (far below the 75-year average of 3.4 percent). Yet in calculating the
wondrous benefits of privatizooops!—personal accounts, they predict 6.5-7 percent stock market earnings for all.
You don’t need a Ph. D. in economics, like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, to realize that both things can’t
be true. Assume that kind of growth and predicted Social Security shortfalls vanish. Bush dances around the issue, but
GOP propagandists such as Stephen Moore of the "Club for Growth" argue that the Social Security Trust Fund is a myth.
They say the special-issue Treasury bonds in it—each backed by "the full faith and credit of the United States "—are nothing
but" worthless IOUs, "" accounting tricks, "etc. Here’s what the U.S. Constitution says:" The validity of the public debt of
the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions shall not be questioned. "
Maybe Democrats should get aggressive for a change.
How about a congressional resolution forcing Bush’s hand?
• Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.
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