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Robert Hockett

Thanks a million for this, Patrick. It's definitely scary as all get out that people still talk about privatizing Social Security. It's as if they were all determined to remove every, last, feature by virtue of which we gradually drew ourselves out of the dark ages! Perhaps the next big ideas we'll hear from these people include poor houses, debtors' prisons, and tossing people into lakes to see whether they float as a means of determining guilt or innocence in criminal trials.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Wonderful stuff Bob!

In today's Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik informs us of what the Republicans plan to offer us:

'Like a zombie tromping through a Hollywood gorefest, the idea of privatizing Social Security still walks among us.

The last promoter of the idea that people should personally invest their Social Security assets in the stock market was President George W. Bush, in 2001. With the dot-com crash still ringing in people's memories, the idea died in 2005.

The market hasn't yet recovered from its most recent crash, but the monster unaccountably is back on its feet. This time it comes dressed up as part of the "Roadmap for America’s Future" recently unfurled by Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking GOP member of the House Budget Committee.

The Roadmap is a retort to the charge that the Republican Party contributes no ideas to the national debate on fiscal issues, only "no" votes in Congress. It's a road map to the dismantling of federal social programs under the guise of making them fiscally sound, while cutting taxes for the rich. (The plan eliminates taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends.)

Social Security comes in for particular abuse. Ryan states that "Social Security's shrinking value and fragile condition pose a serious problem. . . . To maintain the program's significant role as a part of the retirement security safety net, Social Security's mission must be fulfilled . . . without bankrupting future workers."

One doesn't want to be picky about an elected congressman's words, but with all due respect, these words are pure bilge. They come straight from the talking points of Social Security's historical enemies: conservatives who have never believed that the government should play such an important role in people's retirement planning, and mutual fund and insurance companies that hanker for the business generated by millions of Americans looking for a profitable place to park their retirement assets.

Social Security's value to the average American isn't "shrinking" -- it’s expanding. In 1962, it accounted for 30% of the income of Americans aged 65 and older; in 2007 that figure was 36%. (These numbers come from the Social Security Administration.) Given what's happened to most families' financial assets since 2007, the percentage probably is even higher today.

Its "fragile condition"? Social Security runs an annual surplus and has done so since 1983; no other government program can make that claim.

By the way, even when the program starts paying out more in benefits than it collects in payroll tax, that's not a "crisis," as it's often portrayed -- it's the expected outcome of changes implemented after 1982, when the tax was raised sharply to provide a cushion against the coming wave of baby-boomer retirements. The accumulated surplus in the program's trust fund at the end of 2008 was $2.4 trillion.

To address these nonexistent issues, Ryan would place a greater proportion of people's retirement income at the mercy of the stock market, mocking the very idea of a "retirement security safety net."'

The rest (with hyperlinks) is here: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hiltzik17-2010feb17,0,7307760.column

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