Social Security: keep your eyes on the prize

Don’t blink your eyes; keep your eyes on the prize. If you don’t, then you’re sure to lose it.

Wasn’t it only a couple of years ago that Wall Street and its Bush administration waged a massive propaganda war to convince us that Social Security was in mortal danger and about to collapse? They did convince a lot of people — too many people — that steps had to be taken to “save Social Security for our future generations.”

Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, that Wall Street is concerned with the well-being of our future generations? Or, for that matter, that George W. Bush is concerned?

Their propaganda was simple in its essence. They said too many people are getting Social Security checks. These checks are too high and people are retiring too early, at age 67, and people are living too long, they said.

So, they said, we must get a lot more money into the Social Security bank account and quickly. How do we do that? Where is the magic? Just take about one-half of the Social Security tax we pay into the fund and turn that cash over to Wall Street to invest. That’s called privatizing Social Security.

The Social Security Fund takes in about $750 billion a year. Wall Street says each year we should invest about half of that — at least $300 billion — in their investment accounts.

The Wall Street/Bush propaganda is aimed at those who are still working. The main thread that runs through their lies is that there won’t be enough money for current workers when they retire. Therefore, they argue, it would be better to put half of your weekly Social Security tax payment into Wall Street. They are trying to divide active workers from current retirees.

But wait! Didn’t the unions, the working class and people’s forces stop that swindle from happening? Yes, indeed. But the fight is still not over. Wall Street isn’t going to give up $300 billion a year. They’re not do-gooders. If they were, they would be the first to “scrap the cap” on Social Security tax payments.

Social Security is funded by a 12.4 percent payroll tax. One-half is paid by the worker (6.2 percent of gross wages) and one-half by the employer. These taxes are levied on only the first $97,500 in wages and salaries each year. After that, the rich stop paying. That’s how the cap works. If that cap were scrapped, it would end any imagined fiscal crisis in the Social Security funds.

I began this article by saying: Don’t blink your eyes. Please don’t.

Wall Street is still on the march. They are firing their big guns: President Bush in his 2007 State of the Union address; Henry Paulson, former chairman of Goldman Sachs, during his confirmation hearing for treasury secretary; and Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Board chairman, in recent speeches. They are leading the charge “to reform and save” Social Security.

They believe that eventually they can win no matter who is in power in Washington. Don’t forget that the right wing succeeded in deforming welfare and aid to dependent children during the Clinton years. They didn’t wait for a Republican administration.

What needs to be done about Social Security is to raise benefits substantially, lower the retirement age, make benefits nontaxable and scrap the cap. That’s what needs to be on the agenda for the first 100 hours of a new people-first Congress in 2009.

You can find a host of articles on saving and improving Social Security in the People’s Weekly World dating back a number of years at www.pww.org.

pbarile @cpusa.org