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Joe Conason
Joe Conason
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Why Do They Hate Social Security?


Among the mysteries of modern politics in America is why so many of our leading pundits and politicians persistently seek to undermine Social Security, that enduring and successful emblem of active government. In the current atmosphere of budgetary panic, self-proclaimed "centrists" are joining with ideologues of the right in yet another campaign against the program — and yet again they are misinforming the public about its purposes, costs and prospects.

Among the puzzling aspects of the crusade against Social Security is the zeal that animates its enemies, as if the present and future recipients of those monthly checks were somehow fattening themselves at the expense of future generations. Whatever drives these well-fed but poorly informed commentators, it isn't the facts.

First, let's remember that Social Security actually provides support at a very modest level. Last year, the average retirement benefit was $1,170 a month, or about $14,000 a year, with the average disabled worker or widow receiving slightly less. (It would be wonderfully educational for the cable talkers and newspaper editorialists to live on that amount for a few months — they would not only lose weight but gain empathy.)

Remember, too, that despite our status as the largest and most productive economy in the world, Social Security is among the least generous retirement programs among all the developed nations. As a percentage of the average worker's pre-retirement wages, the benefit has been declining for years and will continue to fall without any further cutbacks.

The check that used to replace 39 percent of worklife income will replace only 31 percent by 2031. Compare that with the average wage replacement in the nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — which was roughly 61 percent last year.

More important than those comparative statistics is the fact that the great majority of Social Security beneficiaries have no other cushion for their retirement — not because they were lazy or improvident, but because their wages were simply too low to permit much savings, let alone investment.

The foes of Social Security insist that they have no desire to force the elderly to eat cat food or go homeless — as they did in the years before the program existed. But we must cut drastically, they cry, because we can simply no longer afford the "entitlements" that we have bestowed so lavishly upon the old and the poor.

Whenever someone starts to talk about "entitlements," keep in mind that they are either trying to bamboozle or they've been bamboozled themselves. Under that category, most commentators mix up Medicaid and Medicare — two programs that are indeed endangered by rising health care costs — with Social Security, which will be solvent until at least 2037 and can easily be made solvent for decades to come with minor changes. This is a rhetorical deception perpetrated countless times every day in nearly every media outlet.

The actuarial experts whose job is to monitor Social Security's fortunes have long assured us that small and gradual rises in the tax revenues that support Social Security, accompanied by small and gradual shifts in benefits over the coming years, will solve whatever fiscal challenges the program may eventually confront. There is no reason to panic, and there is certainly no reason to consider wholesale changes in benefits.

Well, there is a reason, but only if your real aim is to destroy the system and replace it with something less useful but more profitable. Wall Street and its servants on Capitol Hill have lusted after Social Security's revenues for many years. And they regard the current uproar over the budget as a fresh opportunity to get their hands on a trillion-dollar bonanza. Given their record in recent years, it is all too easy to imagine how badly that would work out for everybody — except them, of course.

To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



7 Comments | Post Comment
From what I've heard, the Social Security funds they've collected have been replaced with "special" bonds as the funds were spent.

If that's the case, they hate SS because both parties have greedily sucked the fravy from that bowl and have no way to replace it - and old people aren't dying fast enough to meet their needs.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Ken from WI.
Thu Feb 17, 2011 12:13 AM
You're missing a few key points. First, Social Security was not meant to be a retirement program. It was put in place to prevent the elderly, who could no longer support themselves, from becoming destitute. Secondly, each indiviual has the freedom, and responsibility, to make prudent choices concerning the distribution of their earnings. So, whether or not an individual earns enough to save for retirement is not a debateable point. Everyone, regardless of income, can choose to place a small portion into savings. Even an amount as little as 3% annualy would provide a substantial retirement fund acrued over 40-45 years and those in the lowest earnings segment could live on 3% less. I'm not for abolishing the program. But, it's obviously unsustainable in it's current form. It would be more helpful to offer constructive solutions, rather than demonizing those who can do the math.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Steve
Thu Feb 17, 2011 9:25 AM
Oh, please! Stop the nonsense! When talk radio started in the 70's, talkers kept saying that Social Security was doomed and could not exist in it's present form. They predicted it would go belly-up in 2015. Well, here it is 2011 and now the prediction is 2037. Without any tinkering at all, I'm guessing that when 2035 rolls around, the prediction will be 2074.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Jim Dodge
Thu Feb 17, 2011 9:59 AM
Oh, please! Stop the nonsense! When talk radio started in the 70's, talkers kept saying that Social Security was doomed and could not exist in it's present form. They predicted it would go belly-up in 2015. Well, here it is 2011 and now the prediction is 2037. Without any tinkering at all, I'm guessing that when 2035 rolls around, the prediction will be 2074.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Jim Dodge
Thu Feb 17, 2011 9:59 AM
Re: Jim Dodge - The problem is, Baby Boomers are now entering retirement. Not only will they stop contributing and start collecting, but too many don't have anything else to fall back on. They either failed to provide for their own retirements at all, relied on faulty investments (crash of 1987, crash of 2001, crash of 2008), or were counting on the pensions their parents received, but simply no longer exist. I'm not blaming boomers in general (though those individuals who failed to provide for themselves are at fault), I'm saying Social Security is about to undergo a true test of its fortitude.

And I disagree with the author, Social Security IS an entitlement. What dictates the magical age at which a person supposedly no longer has to work anymore? Seems to me, retirement age should be based on when you have enough money saved up to support yourself for the remainder of your days (plan on age 95+ now days). Instead, people who don't have the full means to retire on their own, and are otherwise able-bodied, can take an "early-retirement" (early in the sense that they normally wouldn't be able too). While many other hard-working individuals may not be able to support themselves on social security and must continue to work, and others, like those under 30, pay into a system they may never receive benefits from. I guess its like welfare and food stamps. The system is being abused by those who don't truly need it, leaving less for those who do. I knew people in college on foodstamps, not because they would starve otherwise, but just because they had an off-campus apartment and had a low-enough income that they qualified (I had even less income, and had to pay $1400 for the meal plan cause I lived on-campus, so don't tell me they needed it). How many families are on welfare because they are too fat to work, or have too many kids to feed with the wages they earn at their part-time job they were forced to take when they got pregnant and dropped-out of high school (or, even worse, paid a doctor to impregnate them with 8 freakin' embryos!!!)? How many people collecting social security or planning to do so in the near future could continue working, but figure that the extra $1100/month will supplement their lack of personal retirement funds, so they "deserve" to retire?

I don't know if I'll ever be able to retire, but my future plans don't involve collecting social security, I'd be a fool if my life plans for 40 years from now were counting on that. No one should be "counting" on social security. It should be a system used in case of emergency: e.g. when a legitimate condition means you can no longer work, and unlike welfare recipients, supposedly will never be able to again. It should not be used as a nice little "gold-watch" at the end just cause someone put in their 67 years.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Nathan H.
Thu Feb 17, 2011 11:48 AM
Social Security contributes nothing to the deficit, so why even bring it into the discussion of the cat foot commission?

If left alone, there is enough there to last till the late '30s to early '40s, as was stated. If the rich paid the same portion of their income into the system that the rest of us do, then it would be solvent for the rest of the century. While the overall average lifespan is longer now, it is not as much longer for the working class as it is for the upper classes. Therefore, since CEOs are living longer, they want to make the assembly line workers work longer. Actually the life span for someone 65 years old is only about two years longer now than it was in the 1930s when Social Security was started. So raising the retirement age to 67 is going far enough. I can retire at 66, and I can't wait. One year, nine months, two weeks, and a few days and I am no longer a wage slave in the People's Republic of Corporate America. I have some money put away for retirement, but I will need Social Security to maintain a decent living, so leave it alone, please.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Tom Blanton
Thu Feb 17, 2011 4:02 PM
There are two main reasons for the repeated attempts to cripple or dismantle Social Security. Ideologues hate it because it stands for the proposition that we should and do care for and about one another, and that we have interests in common that we should address collectively, through government. The other reason, as others have noted, is the greed of those who would like to manage the funds of a privatized system.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Robert Roth
Fri Feb 18, 2011 5:07 PM
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