Friday, February 04, 2011


By Ivan G. Goldman

No, Social Security isn’t doomed. That’s just junk put out there by an army of reactionary Rasputins who want all New Deal programs rolled back so we can go back to the good old days when John D. Rockefeller and Herbert Hoover had everything under control.

If we fail to tinker with it, Social Security would run out by about 2041. But why would we be that dumb? We’ve tinkered with the program since its inception. Social Security is a live, successful entity that evolves with our society. Goofballs on the right want us to think the sky is falling so we should go live in caves. But if we didn’t look for ways to make things better, physicians would still be bleeding patients.

The Rasputins tell us we have to reduce benefits, make the retirement age much higher, or do both because they don’t want us to notice that Social Security taxes top out after you’ve made $106,800. Corporate kingpins making $20 million annually pay no more into the program than your average pharmacist. But the Meg Whitmans and Robert Rubins of the world don’t make their serious money in salary anyway because it’s too easy to tax at the maximum rate of 35 percent. They go for stock options and other accounting tricks that allow them to pay no Social Security or Medicare taxes on their earnings and a maximum rate of only 15 percent in income tax.

Incidentally, the maximum tax rate during the Eisenhower and Kennedy years was 91 percent, but that was before politicians began altering campaign financing regulations into a witches’ brew that allowed them to take much bigger tips from wealthy contributors. As these tips got bigger, the tax rates got much, much lower for the wealthiest 1 percent. And it's not over yet. Today’s youth believe Social Security won’t be there for them. That’s not solely based on the belief that America will go broke. It also rests on the savvy understanding that we’re getting screwed, and based on their experience, young citizens see no reason to believe it will stop. After all, it’s all they’ve ever known.

Meanwhile we have polluted air and water, crumbling bridges, no high-speed trains, anemic schools, and an obscenely structured medical care system that even with the new reforms will provide maximum profits to insurance and pharmaceutical suckfish. And now they’re coming for our Social Security. Not long before he died George Carlin, probably the best political scientist we’ve produced in the last century, predicted they’ll get it. Maybe they will. But if we understand it a little better we can make it a lot harder for them. There’s no reason capital gains have to be treated so much better than wages and there’s no good reason to top out Social Security taxes at absurdly low levels.

Obama’s deficit commission recommended that we raise the retirement age to 69 and apply means testing. The Rasputins know that if we turn Social Security into a welfare system it will lose its popularity and eventually they can starve it out, making it a fond memory, like justice and fair play.