There are few things that irk me more than working on a post here and there for a few weeks and then having someone else beat me to it, as Matt Yglesias did here. Nonetheless this is worth saying again and somewhat more forcefully.

It is hard to pick just one thing to earn the title of Most Infuriating in the faux-debate about Social Security reform, but if forced to choose I would have to pick the idea of grandfathering seniors out of the impending cuts. Leaving aside momentarily the fact that the claims of a rickety, insolvent system on the verge of going tits-up at any moment are a wild exaggeration at best, the institutionalized kissing of the asses of seniors is the biggest obstacle to introducing sanity into the upcoming reforms. Every proposal thus far, and we may safely assume any forthcoming ones as well, stipulate that no substantive changes will be made to the SS benefits of people currently 55 or older. You know, that voting bloc with extraordinarily high turnout composed of aging Boomers who want to burn every bridge once they have safely crossed it.

In keeping with the modern political tradition of refusing to demand any sacrifices from voters (at least not the ones who matter to the Beltway) we are about to be promised radical changes to Social Security that don't require the vast majority of current or near-future recipients to experience any changes. "But I paid into it my whole life!" they say, as if people who have merely paid into it for 30 years are not stakeholders. This is a politically expedient bit of ass covering used by both parties – and frankly a little more tasteful than some other efforts at pandering to seniors – but the absolute worst possible way to approach reform, virtually guaranteeing that the same portion of our society that spends most of its life being shat upon will bear the brunt of the consequences and see few if any benefits.

If reform is truly necessary (as opposed to austerity hysteria used as a canard for hostility toward the welfare state in general) then everyone should be in this boat together. We should be sharing the sacrifices. None of this "Let's screw a lot of our constituents but protect the ones most crucial to our re-election" nonsense. If political leadership still existed in this country, a real president or Congressional leader would stand up and say "We'd prefer not to change Social Security but it looks like we have to. Everybody bend over. This is going to be unpleasant, but take some solace in the fact that everybody is going to get screwed." I calculate the odds of that happening at about a million to one.

Of course I feel bad for current SS recipients who are struggling to make ends meet even at current benefit levels. In reality I would prefer that the system be left as-is and any future revenue shortfalls remedied by lifting the cap on high income contributions. But the larger point is that this is indicative of a deeply disturbing habit that is ingrained in our political system: selectively screwing various groups based on their perceived electoral importance. Sure, let's just dump all of the consequences on the young. Maybe we'll switch it up next time and screw the poor, or maybe the blacks and Latinos. Whatever we end up choosing, for the love of baby Jesus please make sure no consequences befall the elderly or the upper middle class.


  • It seems like this is partly an indictment of the increased importation of managerial values into government. There are literally dozens of ways in which SS benefits could be protected (hell, even extended) by re-apportioning federal dollars from other programs that are overfunded (you know what they are: defense, farm subsidies, oil/coal subsidies, etc). But that would go not only against prevailing political interests, but also the managerial value which says when the going gets tough cut money disproportionately for the rank and file rather than spreading the pain around.

    It seems like there's a rash of that lately: enterprises which function as other than profit-maximizing entities incorporating managerial values to their detriment. Newspapers and universities are the obvious examples.

    God damn Reagan.

  • I'd be with you on this one if it truly was everyone bending over to take one up the ass. But the cuts are never "across the board." Some will suffer more than others, and who wants to break out the lube to be the one who volunteers to suffer when it doesn't take a genius to know there's a lot of people a lot better off than them who are not only NOT going to get fucked, but who will benefit from their sacrifices (like maybe, oh, I don

  • Okay, let's see if I've mastered the post (this is my first, so bear with me).

    don’t know—anyone associated with defense, who is being asked to make the gigantic sacrifice of reducing the rate of their spending increase over the next whatever years)?

    After spending thirty years in a coal mine and punching a register at the 7-Eleven, my grandparents have to swallow their pride to apply for free medication through the drug companies. My mother-in-law spent 25 years raising severely physically and mentally handicapped children so the state didn't have to, and she now relies on the generosity of her children to pay for her living expenses until her couple-hundred-dollars a month SSA benefits kick in. If you ask me, she should have charged them by the number of kids she buried. Heartbreak has to be worth something.

    So, yeah, let him bitch. Let ‘em burn their bridges. Let ‘em intimidate by the ballot box. When the likes of Boehner voluntarily cuts their earmarks and tells his constituents to suck it up like he did the federal employees; or when Cheney enlists his grandkids in the Army, then we’ll start discussing the pros and cons of various personal lubricants. Until then, everyone is entitled to their own stick and their own plot of sand.

  • I would also be in favor of raising the cap, about time it was corrected for inflation. The root of the problem seems to be people who don't grasp the interconnectedness of the economy, they believe they can shit in their corner without stinking up the room.

  • I gotta say, I'm torn on this one. You're absolutely right that the largest part of Congress wants to keep things the same for the 55 and older bracket because it's electorally better for them. But I really, truly don't think that the grandma down the street, living on social security and her dead husband's pension should have to take it in the ass like everyone else. Does that mean that some will avoid it who probably could have their benefits cut and be okay? Yes.

  • grumpygradstudent says:

    Ronald Reagan is still praised today for the very fact that he blew sunshine up people's asses. The idea that a leader might rally the troops for a hard slog through rough terrain…yeah, I agree, I don't see that happening.

    And I'm glad you mentioned raising taxes, as that is the obvious solution to this "crisis." A modest increase would take care of the problem.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    I still can't help but wonder how these people:

    Became these people:

    What happened? Are they even the same people? Was the hippy movement of the 60s really just a small portion of the caucasian population? Or am I just simplifying the boomers and they're really just as diverse as the rest of us and it just SEEMS like they're a bunch of hypocrites these days?

  • @Displaced:

    Yes, "these people" were, in fact, a small slice of the population. The current boomers, although some were "these people," are the same "those people" they were 40 years ago.

    They were hypocrites then, too, a la: You anti-war protestors are traitors, but those of us who trump up draft deferments based on lies are just taking advantage of opportunities.

    As for the larger argument: Yes, lifting or removing the cap on contributions would solve the problem quite clearly, simply and directly. Our "leadership's" refusal to discuss the possibility is as clear evidence as I need that protecting Social Security isn't really the goal here.

  • Monkey Business says:

    I'm of two minds about this.

    I don't think it's right to pull the rug out from under people that are collecting social security right now in the name of fair reform. These are people that have paid in to the system and have earned the right to collect.

    However, if you are not collecting right now, get ready to feel the pain.

    First off, we're gonna eliminate the cap on social security taxes. Everything above $86,000 is now open for business.

    Second off, from now on when people apply for Social Security benefits, if they have financial assets that exceed a certain amount, they won't be able to collect SS.

    If that doesn't close the gap, then it's gonna be small tax increases for everybody.

  • Unfortunately, the whole Congressional effort is being driven by exactly what you suggested–hostility towards the "welfare state." They do not give a flip for the deficit questions. What's terrible and dangerous is that Mr. Obama seems intent on finding common ground on this front–rather than protecting the vast majority of the American people. What we're seeing, in other words, is the gradual morphing of the two parties into one big corporate-supporting party. I guess the corporations believe they can deliver to the world market, and the hell with the American consumer. Good faith, on the other hand, would mean among many other things that that cap mentioned above by "Monkey Business" will indeed be lifted. But how likely is that, given the Lame Duck collapse by Obama on extending tax cuts to the super rich.

  • One of the most infuriating things about the faux debate over deficit reduction (Defense and Ag subsidies are automatically off the table) is the way Medicare and Social Security are now conflated. The first requires annual expenditures from the General Fund, the second is still in surplus yet both are mentioned in the same breath as requiring us to Do Something About the Deficit. It's pure bs yet our heroic media has adopted it largely without cavil.

    Two other things that are rarely mentioned in this "debate" are the fact that if you are 55 or older and you lose your job you are usually out of luck finding another one and that the wage stagnation of the past three decades means that contributions to the Social Security Trust Fund are far below what they might have been. Both of the aforementioned situations are at least in part traceable to the actions of the same political parties that are now self-righteously calling upon us all to tighten our belts. There is only one snake, it just has two heads.

  • OK, the pecking order seems to be
    the rich
    senators and congressmen
    white not-yet-seniors
    blacks and Hispanics

    Have I got that right? Once the rich got their tax cuts renewed, how can anyone talk about "fair and balanced" with a straight face? It's all a crap shoot. Could one good outcome of this struggle over social security be, not a class war, but an age group war? Be interesting to see the 20-30 y/o set wake up to smell the civic responsibility, as a defense against getting screwed over disproportionately. Could there be any interest in government after the enthusiastic turnout for "Yes, We Can?"

  • my 6th group should have read "blacks and Hispanics not in the above groups." not to reinforce stereotypes… more than society does.

  • anotherbozo, I was suckered in by "Yes We Can." I blame myself because in my exuberance I failed to ask myself "We Can…what?" It turns out that we can take very good care of those who need help the least while punishing those who need help the most. I won't get fooled again.

  • The media keeps talking about how Social Security is the third rail of politics. Wrong, raising or eliminating the cap on earnings for SS is the third rail. For years SS has run a surplus, but in the near future it will be time to pay back all these years of surplus when SS takes in less than it pays out. That's what all those that claim SS is broke are worried about, that maybe they'll have to pay the piper.
    It's all about rewarding the rich by making the middle class and poor pay for it!!

  • As long as we continue to shoot at brown people around the world with our freedom loving military I could give a fuck what happens to old people in this country because I am never going to need help from anyone as long as our sacrosanct military continues to kick some mother loving third world ass! USA! USA! USA!

  • This blog entry encourages a conflict between those of us who might otherwise be united. It concedes a framing to the Republicans (as noted by Dennis SGMM). The current discussion about the Social Security retirement program has been pushed by Republicans as part of their "reduce the deficit" campaign. The Social Security retirement program DOESN'T contribute one cent to the deficit. It is not Medicare (or the Defense Department or tax cuts for the rich or subsidies for their large corporations). This needs to be repeated over and over again. The actuarial issues associated with FUTURE problems with the SS retirement program can be solved for decades by the simple measure of eliminating the cap on payment of payroll taxes so that the rich would continue to pay into the system. Suggesting that the current recipients of SS retirement benefits take some hit is an abomination. If my late mother's meager SS retirement benefits had been cut as part of this effort, I would have been manning the barricades in the revolution.

  • @displaced Capitalist: silly me–you're right. vide William Domhoff's "Who Rules America?"

    and it still is news

  • "But I paid into it my whole life!"

    Of course, those of us who will retire in 2045 or 2050 will also have paid into it our whole life by then. But I guess we're chopped liver.

    Actually by then *we* will be the high-turnout protected class and the cuts planned now will probably never go into effect, so the whole exercise is so much bullshit. We're going to fix an imaginary future shortfall with an imaginary future benefit cut. Whatever.

    The number of people my age who believe that Social Security will not be around *at all* when they retire is quite alarming. Of course, they claim to believe this, but they don't actually save very much to compensate, so I'm not sure I believe *them*, although then again most people are pretty stupid about saving, including me at times.

  • Paul W. Luscher says:

    Dude, you need to get over your irrational hatred of boomers. Not ALL Boomers are about looking out for Number 1, and damn every body else. After all, WE'RE not the generation who thought it was cool to proclaim "It's all about me"….

    Point is, this boomer thinks we should all sink or swim together. But frankly, I think it would be better if we all swam together.

    I think a lot of this hoopla about how Social Security must be "sacrificed" is just the Repub's back-door way of attempting to destroy the last vestiges of the New Deal, out of some weird idea of extracting vengeance. It's been pointed out other places that there nothing wrong with the program that a few minor tweaks can't fix.

  • Not ALL Boomers are about looking out for Number 1, and damn every body else. After all, WE'RE not the generation who thought it was cool to proclaim "It's all about me"….

    So I take it you spent the 70s and 80s in a coma?

  • If the poor would bother to vote, this country would be an entirely different place. The average California voter is a 50-something white male Republican who owns a house in the suburbs (like me, except for the Republican part, and that's a HUGE exception). The average Californian is younger, femaler (I know, not a word), browner, and rents.

  • Quite frankly, I think the "austerity" pitch is aimed at setting the stage for "privatization." The stock market needs something besides the FED to prop it up. That will give the bastards who set up the bubbles and crashes a whole new set of rubes, especially since the government doesn't seem to interested in prosecuting anybody but small time druggies and "terrorists."

  • Well, I wonder if we could be a little less fucking rancorous about it, and look at – oh, I don't know – some facts and data, maybe?

    The first thing we discover is that the percentage of the population living at poverty, or a fraction of the poverty level, has increased over the past decade. This should surprise no one, the Shrub administration being what it was.

    Dig a little deeper, and you find a deep divide in the financial condition of those over 65. While the % of that group at poverty has declined significantly, the % at .75 of poverty has perhaps slithered down only a tiny bit. But the % at .50 of poverty has actually crept up a bit.

    I have to believe that every dollar is pretty damned important – maybe in a life and death way – to someone at 50% of poverty – you know, the one's who are going to get their heating subsidies slashed by our loving president.

    So let's be damned sure to ask them to share the pain.

    Cuz every god-damned thing that's wrong is the boomers' fault.

    Never mind that they are just now becoming 65.

    Cromartie – I'm one of the oldest Boomers, born in 1946. In 1980 I turned 34. Do you think I and those younger than I were controlling the god-damned word in the 80's? That was fucking Reagan's generation, and he just turned a god damned HUNDRED. Do the fucking math, OK?

    Not the best thread ever, here, guys.


  • In 1980 you weren't shit, the same way us 34 year olds aren't shit now. Now of course you're about to become reliable turnout recipients of a great deal of government largesse.


    But don't fucking vote for the people who want to cut *our* benefits because they want to default on the Trust Fund or don't want income tax increases.

  • Do the fucking math, OK?

    I've done the fucking math. You were old enough to vote. You were old enough to take a stand for your generation and the ones to follow. You didn't. You spent the decade snorting coke off of the asses of hookers and making fun of welfare queens. There were more of you, many more of you, than there were of them. You were having so much fun that you gave the elder Bush a term, and elected the younger Bush because he was cool to have a drink with. You had one responsibility, just like your parents, and their parents, and that was to leave the world and this country better for the generation to follow than it was before. And on that, you fucking failed miserably.

    At least you could do us the courtesy of dying quietly, but, as the election of 2010 showed, the dumbest among you decided to prolong the magic by having their own belated Woodstock.

  • Isn't this all somewhat academic anyway? Didn't the Bush junta pretty much raid the SS trust fund and leave behind, as he said, a filing cabinet full of IOU's? So now what? This money exists only as a debt to the American people. And when it comes to reclaiming debt, the middle and lower class come in dead last. Unless we're paying for it, that is.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    cromartie wrote:

    You spent the decade snorting coke off of the asses of hookers and making fun of welfare queens.

    Wow, that's quite a straw-man you built there… how about you look at my post from 9:24 am and Seth's erudite response to it before you start making claims about who boomers are.

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