Column no. 48 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - February 16, 2005
There is a great deal of discussion going on of the Georgite proposals for Social Security Deform, and you may well be sated on the subject by now. There is of course no “crisis.” So what else is new? The Big Lie technique is the single most important component of the Georgite propaganda strategy, whether the subject is invading Iraq, or destroying Social Security.
In this column, I examine several aspects of the issues surrounding the Georgite dream of destroying Social Security that have not received too much attention yet, in my view. So, if you are a Social Security Deform junkie, as well as a Political Junkie, you still might find this column of interest.
Does George Bush really mean what he says about Social Security and its potential shakiness and his suddenly discovered concern for its future? Or does he not? The suspicion is that the second answer is correct.
Basis for Suspicion, No. 1. When it comes to Social Security, George Bush tells us that he is concerned about the future, the far-distant future as it turns out, or so he says. Is his next major initiative, then, going to be about other concerns for the future, often for a future quite a bit closer in time than Bush’s fictional date for the Social Security “crisis,” such as for: global warming (and a very new “doomsday is much closer than you think” report), the effects of his budget deficits on the US and global economies, the huge US balance of trade deficit, the running down of the US infrastructure compared to that of other countries, the degradation of the environment due to his policies, a US health care delivery system that is hurtling towards financial disaster, and so on and so forth? Doubtful.
Basis for Suspicion, No. 2. There is in parallel a sudden major concern about one particular aspect of what the Republican Religious Right has forever dubbed "social spending" (actually national domestic spending). They have hated all the other elements of domestic spending ever since the Republican Party converted from the party of freedom to the party of business back in the 1880s. The RRRs are now trashing as much domestic spending as quickly as they can. They just do not like it. Why all of a sudden a concern with this particular element of it, Social Security?
Basis for Suspicion, No. 3. Even if the Social Security System were in the dire financial straits that the Georgites (and no other observers) say that it is, why is "privatization" the only way to "save" it (and even Bush now admits that it won’t)? In fact, all of the evidence is that privatization would eventually kill it (see below). There is a host of other ways to protect the System should it need protecting in the future, ways known to work. Among them would be, as the population gets older and older and the proportion of active workers smaller and smaller, to raise some of the necessary funds from general taxation. But that would be anathema to the Georgites. In fact, one of the major reasons behind the Georgite scheme is likely to be specifically to prevent recourse to general tax funds no matter how many years in the future that drastic measure might have to be taken.
Basis for Suspicion, No. 4. Leading Republicans give as one reason for their sudden rush of concern over the System their former contention, that privatization is the only way to save it. That reason is that the national savings rate is so low and their scheme would increase savings. The US national savings rate is indeed very low, and does need to be increased for a variety of reasons. But many other much more direct ways exist to increase savings, without putting the Social Security System at such dire risk. One could start simply with making bank savings account interest not taxable up to some predetermined level. The problem with this for the RRR is that a) detaxing a portion of savings would provide a tax-cut for workers, and that is not a priority for the RRR, b) their money-people don't use savings accounts, and c) the lost revenue would have to be made up from somewhere (guess what source I would propose) and that wouldn't do now, would it?
Basis for Suspicion, No. 5 is the likely real goal of the Georgite plan. In my view, what is going on here is clearly an attack on the Federal government's most popular and best-run program in its totality. It is first on Grover “Shrink the Federal Government to the Size of a Bath-tub and then Drown it in the Tub” Norquist's hit-list. Mark Schmitt (1/13/05, circulated by my friend Derek) put it very well: “This is of a piece with the national fiscal sabotage inherent in the notion of ‘starving the beast’: degrade the fiscal capacity of the U.S. government. Increase its indebtedness at an unsustainable rate, allow the professional standards of its civil service to atrophy, rupture its historic international relations, diminish its credibility in financial commitments.”
As we deal with the Georgites on this issue, I think it is vital that we do not simply argue on their agenda (as we so often do). In this case, their desired agenda is whether or not there is a “crisis,” is “privatization” a good idea or not. But the real battle here is not over how Social Security should be run and financed. It is clearly over whether there should be a Social Security program as we have known it since its inception or not. The Republican Right has had Social Security in its sights since the day after its passage in 1935. It is on this agenda that the counter-attack should begin. Before arguing about details, first make the Georgites prove that their attack is not one aimed at destroying the whole program, on the way to destroying everything other than military-industrial, prison-industrial, opposition-repression/suppression, and mind/behavior-control Federal Government functions.
Am I being a total over-the-top alarmist here? Consider what is going on with the Bush “Budget” (in quotes, because a number of big-ticket items like the cost of his wars have been conveniently left out). Here is The Washington Post (Feb. 7, 2005): “ $2.5 Trillion Budget Plan Cuts Many Programs: President Bush [unveiled] a budget that eliminates dozens of politically sensitive domestic programs, while it proposes significant increases for the military and international spending, according to administration documents. (By Mike Allen and Peter Baker, the Washington Post).” And The Los Angeles Times: “Bush to Propose Billions in Cuts, By Joel Havemann and Mary Curtius, “WASHINGTON-President Bush propose[s] a 2006 budget Monday that, despite record spending of about $2.5 trillion, will call for billions of dollars in cuts that will touch poor people on food stamps and farmers on price supports, children under Medicaid and adults in public housing.”
Oh yes. All of these cuts of national domestic programs vital to many people slated for slashing in a show “fiscal discipline,” cost about $15 billion, in a $2.5 trillion-and-counting Budget. Perhaps I am just the suspicious type.
Note: This column is drawn from my “Short Shots” Nos. 39 and 43, appearing on the Weblog of The Planetary Movement Ltd. UK, Michael Carmichael (our esteemed European Editor), Creator and Director, The Moving Planet Blog. (Click on the blue hyperlinks to go directly to the indicated material).