June 19, 2005
You Trust Me? Really? Why?
Powerful article in the Times today about the real-world impacts, effects, and uses of Social Security. The piece profiles a set of seniors in Grand Rapids, digging into how Social Security affects, and in some cases, dictates their lives. One quote in particular stood out:
But others, like James Townsend, who worked as a forklift operator, defend the traditional program. "If they hadn't had Social Security, I wouldn't have saved that money," he said. "If I'd had extra money, I'd have spent it. I wouldn't have anything at all."
Generally, that strikes me as the primary divide between those in philosophical solidarity with private investment and those ideologically opposed. Putting aside clawbacks and phase-out and everything else, would you support a competently structured privatization program? Republicans answering the question usually say yes because they "trust people with their own money". That always struck me as hopelessly naive. In a society where the average man on the street is packing $5,800 of credit card debt, the idea that we're all competent financial planners managing our money with an eye towards retirement savings is giggle-inducing.
Over time, Bush came to understand this. Moreover, he realized that Americans, like James Townsend, are less confident in their money-managing abilities than Bush was. Guess that's difference between seeing an unabalanced checkbook every month and making generalizations based off a political philosophy. So Bush changed his own nonexistent plan into a scheduled set of investments, no control, little risk. At that point, all we were dealing with was a reduction in benefits, but Bush kept up the same refrain, the "I trust Americans with their money" chorus. But Bush really didn't. I don't. And neither, it turns out, do Americans. Having something come on a guaranteed schedule, protected from human error as surely as from market turmoil, offers an important psychological security net. And that's why the alternative plan for Social Security is Social Security. Yes yes, I know, it was created back in the prehistoric 1930's. But while our economy might have transformed since then, it turns out Americans haven't much changed -- they still like a sure thing.
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As a number of economists have pointed out, Social Security in its present form is MORE relevant to current economic conditions than before, not less. Because of the loss of security in other income (e.g. problems with private pensions, less stable jobs), being able to count on a guaranteed income stream in retirement is more important than ever.
Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Jun 19, 2005 2:29:26 PM
If we don't trust ourselves with our money (and we wisely don't), why in hell would we trust Congress, and particularly the Republicans, with it? The law puts it into a trust fund, and a properly-operating system would mean that no one could touch that fund. Unfortunately, we don't have such a system, and the trust fund has been spent on other budget priorities.
In the future, we will have to start funding those other budget items directly (more taxes) or stop doing some of those things (fewer services), or both. In the farther future, we will have to do less and tax more AND start covering the Social Security shortfalls.
I don't like the future.
Posted by: Ed Drone | Jun 20, 2005 10:49:34 AM
Posted by: peter.w | Sep 16, 2007 9:50:17 PM
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