INTO THE ETHER

I'm 29. That places me in the last generation of Americans to experience any part of the Cold War and superimposes my formative years over eight years of Reagan Worship. Accordingly, an integral part of my image of the Baby Boomers (my/our parents) is their raging erection for privatization. Boy, those fat cats in Washington can't do anything right! There's nothing worth doing that Private Enterprise can't do better! Government-run health care programs? Privatize 'em. Military personnel? Privatize them too. NASA wants to build a space probe? Private sector will do it better. Airport security? Yeah, that can be privatized. And the big one: Social Security? Oh hell yeah, we'd best privatize the fuck out of Social Security.

This is easily one of the most fascinating issues of our time, not because it has any intellectual merit but because of its tendency to create rabid, short-lived enthusiasm at great intervals and then disappear into the ethers. One day it is all over the news and the next day it is as impossible to locate as last night's thunderstorm. It is the Keyser Soze of public policy – everyone has heard of it, no one sees it.

When Our Leader first took office in 2001 he put substantial energy into this issue. Then 9/11 happened and it summarily vanished. He gave it another push after the 2004 Election (which provided a mandate and all the political capital on Earth!). Alas, he couldn't even convince his own party – who held healthy majorities in Congress – to sign on. Again it vanished.

John McCain, a supporter of privatization (although he's trying his best to deny it for some strange reason) dipped his toe in the water early in the campaign but today he'd sooner eat broken glass with an AIDS chaser than mention it in public. And the obvious link among the issue's three most recent appearances on the national stage? Well, oddly enough it disappears every time the stock market does a half-gainer off the high board into an empty pool. Which, of course, reminds everyone who is about to retire of just how screwed they would be with a market-based "alternative."

Stocks, as the plan's supporters point out, are an excellent long-term investment. You'll generally come out ahead over 30 or 40 years. In the short term, however, they are pretty damn unpredictable. How would you like to be 65 and preparing to retire right now? You did post-retirement planning with the assumption (which held as recently as a few months ago) that your "investment" is worth X dollars. Now it's worth 60% of X. In six more months it'll be 40% of X. Why, you'd be pretty fucked, wouldn't you?

That, "my friends", is why this half-assed idea never goes anywhere – not because of the much more valid arguments about the impossibility of ushering such a behemoth pool of money into the stock market (pension fund socialism, anyone?). The right tries to railroad a privatization plan through Congress every time the economic barometer rises, but people have the annoying habit of asking questions like "Gee, what if the Dow does an uncontrolled flight into terrain six months before I retire?" The answer is pretty obvious – the providential hand of the market "corrects" your standard of living.

6 thoughts on “INTO THE ETHER”

  • There's that, yeah…the inherent unpredictability of the markets that privatization would depend on.

    The other thing? Candidates are realizing that, to get elected, they need to get votes from some of the kids. (Actually, you might be barely in that group, too, at 29.) And, from the statistically bogus sample I've taken, kids look at social security as some sort of Ponzi scheme that they'll never get a payout from. The less SS is mentioned, the better, for these candidates.

  • I wouldn't be so quick to blame the Baby-boomers. The elitist leaders of the Neo-Conjob movement are older than that. I will admit that a lot of the boomers have been duped by the Neo-Conjobs. There are still a lot of us boomers that can still think clearly. I have told my kid on numerous occasions that if she wants to collect Social Security, to not vote for the Fucking Republicans. Also, that they keep telling young people that SS won't be there for them so they will be willing to change it and kill it. The Fucking Republicans have been trying to kill SS since day one and will never stop trying.

    On another point, I lost any and all respect for McCain when he went down to Lynchburg and fellated Falwell. Or should I say he went down to Lynchburg and went down.

  • Doesn't taking a chance on the stock market go against the idea of "security" in social security, or everything the program stands for?!? It just shows how inherently absurd and contradicting the attempt to privatize SS is. It is like making the elderly roll dice on money for the basic necessities of life: "Okay Ethel, you've had your soul numbed and dignity crapped on for 45 years at shit jobs. Now, roll the dice to see if you can eat this month or pay the rent!"

  • This is easily one of the most fascinating issues of our time […] because of its tendency to create rabid, short-lived enthusiasm at great intervals and then disappear into the ethers.

    You're talking about the privatization of Social Security in particular, not privatization in general, yes? I mean, the last eight years have been a veritable orgy of privatization on the two-dicked billygoat scale for folks in the "homeland security" industry.

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