Monday, September 05, 2005

Equus Mortuus 5

Hyman gives the equine corpse a final wallop with his last commentary on the “facts” about Social Security.

Hyman Phact 10:

Your benefits are not guaranteed. That you have guaranteed benefits is probably
one of the single biggest lies told about Social Security. In fact, unless the
system is saved the greater likelihood is that benefits will be cut in order to
keep the system solvent. Congress has the power to change Social Security as it
sees fit. Raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 is one way Congress has
already cut benefits. You won't get benefits at the original age you were
promised. This means you will earn less over your retired lifetime.

Real Fact 10: This is untrue on a number of levels. First, the retirement age of 67 only applies to those born after 1960. Additionally, as the Social Security website itself notes, you can start receiving benefits as early as age 62, and although this will mean you will get slightly less per month, you will likely end up getting at least as much in total benefits because you will receive them over a longer period of time.

Secondly, the system (as we’ve said a number of times) does not need to be saved. Benefits are guaranteed until around 2050 (depending on whose particular numbers you use). After that, benefits can still be maintained with minimal changes to the system that will still allow for a
huge growth in wage-earners’ salaries.

Third, the privatization scheme proposed by the president
actually guarantees fewer benefits than Social Security does. Privatization means huge tax hikes or benefit cuts to make the transition to private accounts, and even then your money is at risk. On the other hand, Social Security is called that for a reason.

Lastly, the
life expectancy when Social Security was created (1935) wasn’t even 65 (it was around 60 years, depending on gender and race). Today, life expectancy is in the mid 70s. A 30-year-old white male in 1935 could only reasonably expect to live to collect three years worth of Social Security benefits. That same worker today (even with the change in retirement age) can reasonably expect more than a decade of benefits. Thus, Social Security is giving each of us far more than what the program originally promised.

As a final point, I want to say something about why this debate is going on at all. Hyman mentions “supporters of this broken system,” but he never acknowledges why people might support this system. As is all too typical, Hyman believes (or at least implies to his audience) that those who oppose him are doing so simply out of spite. Just as everyone who isn’t in support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq must “hate the troops” and want to “blame America first,” so must all those who support the current Social Security system be villains who, for reasons unknown, simply want to prevent privatization out of spite.

But what’s going on is much deeper than the melodrama Hyman conjures up for his viewers. Those who support privatization have a world view based on individualism. In their mind, “every man for himself” is not only an acceptable way to carry out public policy, but the only moral way to do so. Only then can individuals be held accountable for their actions, with those who take care of business “winning” and those who end up failing getting what they deserve (because in a conservative world view, failing financially is to fail morally—if you’ve failed, you obviously didn’t work hard enough or plan well enough). Privatization isn’t a matter of what economic policies are most efficient; it’s a matter of deep moral import. Social Security as it is, with its inherent promise from one group of Americans to another, is (in the eyes of conservatives) a morally repugnant entity because it appears to invite weakness.

[Let’s table, for now, the fact that these same conservatives fiercely protect corporate welfare and government assistance to land barons, mega-farming firms, etc.]

I suggest, however, that the current system is, aside from its well-established economic advantages, a more moral, American, and Christian system. After all, although the myth of the rugged individual is part of the American ethos, let’s remember that in reality, those Americans who we admire for their perseverance (from the Pilgrims to those who went West on prairie schooners) survived by helping each other out. If there’s a value more dear to our self-conception than the independence of the individual, it is the idea of a shared community, one of the sort that can only exist among citizens in a democracy—a community based not on forced adherence to ideology or fear of authority, but out of a sense of shared values and a shared destiny as a free people. This sense of community is one not bound by time, either. How often do we invoke our children when we make a case for what course of action to take as a community? Given this, is not a system in which we bind ourselves, one generation to the next, with the promise of help to those who need it most, inherently American? And what could be less American than saying, “To hell with you, neighbor—I’m not your keeper! Take care of yourself and don’t bother me!” Would any of us be here had our forebears embraced such an ethos?

And isn’t this collective promise to each other and to our children far more keeping with the most basic tenets of Christianity (or indeed almost any of the major religions) than an approach that replaces ties of community with as sense of me-firstism that cuts these ties? Isn’t this collective promise an example of the Golden Rule put into practice? And why is it that those who most loudly cry out that this is a nation based on Christian values are the same ones who want to replace a system that enacts the most noble aspects of Jesus’ teachings with a system that is based on an ethics of self-centeredness and callousness that would befit the Pharisees, if not Herod himself?

I’m just wondering.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.78


At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Joe H said...

Nice comments, I agree about your comments regarding the Conservative Ethos. You would be amazed and disgusted with the amount of "me-firstism" going aroung with the Hurricane that recently hit, and how turned off I am towards a lot of people I used to know. Many people are saying the New Orleans should have known this was coming, and that they somehow "deserve" their horrible fate. Not to mention people condeming the looting, but not commenting on the fact there was no "organized government" who was "looting" The stores, and handing out supplies in an orderly fashion. So many people share this point of view it's horrible to me...I'm not saying we have to reach out and help people who refuse to be helped...but these conservatives forget that those who are in need in New Orleans pay taxes too...

I don't understand how anyone could not be disgusted with the Conservative mantra (ethos if you will)...why would anyone support another person who is for themselves only...[i]seems kind of ironic that citizens would vote for politicians who believe in a "me-first" (everybody for themselves) approach to life...because those people they elect are not going to look out for their constituents, they are looking out for themselves...[/i]

At 1:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm sure you've thought of this...

There is something very disturbing about Right Wingers who rail against "Government" as if it is intrinsically incompetent or evil...and then use the features of Government (law-making, tax collection, etc.) to impose their will on the citizenry or embark on their (government sponsored) crusades.

I think that this is one of the greatest evils of the Right's message: disparage "Government" while ruling and legislating for narrow (and typically, moneyed) interests.

There's another troubling aspect about the "Hate Government Crowd" -- it is almost as if it is a taunt against the powerlessness of the common man. I'm sure you can state this more clearly than I (and I'd hope that you would!), but the "Hate American Government" Republicans are almost saying "Don't bother with your silly little democratic ideals, trust us to redefine our society as one bereft of any meaningful social contract".

It is frightening.

Would you care to take this up?

CM in IC

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous the daily phosdex said...

...As is all too typical, Hyman believes (or at least implies to his audience) that those who oppose him are doing so simply out of spite. Just as everyone who isn’t in support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq must “hate the troops” and want to “blame America first,” so must all those who support the current Social Security system be villains who, for reasons unknown, simply want to prevent privatization out of spite.

Which begs the question of whether the ur-motto of those pushing for denationalisation could be none other than the old Jedem das Seim ("To Each His Own"), which the Nazis used alongside Arbeit Macht Frei ("Work Makes You Free") vis-a-vis the concentration camps.

Let alone imagining the use of Jedem das Seim as the theme of propaganda campaigns of the "winning of hearts and minds" stylee vis-a-vis "complete and final" denationalisation--especially so such targeting the Great Booboisie.


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