It’s All About the Taxes

It’s a simple question that progressive types – and many non-Washingtonians, for that matter –ask themselves all the time: If Social Security needs more money in coming decades, why not just raise the payroll tax? It’s how we’ve done it in the past, why can’t we just do it again? The reason is that the far right and the center-right – Washington’s Very Serious People – have agreed that the low-tax regime they’ve collaborated on putting in place for the affluent is here to stay, along with the income inequality it’s helped to spawn.  There will be no further increases, even in a comparatively un-progressive levy like the payroll tax, they insist.

It’s not news that you can’t mention the words “tax increase” in Washington without someone attaching an epithet like “job-killing” or “politically unpopular” to them as a matter of reflex. This goes for the payroll taxes that fund Social Security as for any other tax. House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan says Continue reading →

Of Groupthink, Financial Bubbles, and Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong got away with ringleading what now looks like a vast doping conspiracy, in part because the sports media refused to investigate what was right under their noses. Why? Because they were too invested in the heroic image that congealed around the Tour de France winner. In much the same way, groupthink in the financial media has repeatedly led our most prominent journalists to valorize hucksters and ignore scandals until they blow up into full-scale catastrophes.

Today’s New York Times includes a fine column by David Carr, taking the mainstream sports media to task as not-to-silent partners in the selling of the Lance Armstrong Legend. Carr gives the sports desk a good spanking. But the problem he describes is actually much bigger, extending deep into the business and economic coverage that is arguably the most critically important information we get from the media nowadays

Let’s review a bit of history. Continue reading →

Teaching Social Security, With and Without Prejudice

A Young Person’s Guide to Social Security is an excellent tool for teaching students and younger workers how the system works and what’s at stake in the struggle over Social Security’s future. But big money is behind “Understanding Fiscal Responsibility,” a competing curriculum that can’t hide its deep ideological bias.

The Social Security wars are fought on many fronts. One of the newest is for the hearts and minds of younger Americans – high school and college students and even young workers. These people – “future decision-makers,” as they’re sometimes called – don’t always have well-developed assumptions about Social Security, Medicare, and related programs. That makes them either a non-factor in the national debate or else a potentially crucial bloc of votes. Some of them will no doubt go on to influential careers in public policy. And so the messages that are fed to them as students could have an enormous impact in future decades.

Two sets of institutions with very different values and priorities have entered the lists with curricula designed to shape young people’s thinking about Social Security, Continue reading →

Jon Cowan: Once Again, Ginning Up Faux Youth Outrage

Coming soon: a new pressure group called “The Can Kicks Back,” which aims to turn younger Americans into an anti-deficit avenging army. It will surely attempt to play a role in the post-election talks surrounding the “fiscal cliff.” This offensive bears a slight odor of deja vu, however, because one of its organizers is Jonathan Cowan, who 20 years ago attempted to recruit Gen Xers in a similar campaign propelled by a brash, ultimately buffoonish group called Lead … Or Leave.

Today, Jon Cowan is the president of Third Way, which calls itself “the nation’s leading centrist policy institution” and is certainly one of the most prominent center-right pressure groups in Washington. Its board of trustees reads like a Who’s Who of Wall Street, hedge fund and real estate barons and it enjoys privileged access to Continue reading →

Democracy Now: Ryan’s Push to Dismantle Social Security

 

 

Expand Social Security? How Outlandish!

The Rebuild America Act, introduced in March by Sen. Tom Harkin, as a wish-list of progressive ideas that would be widely discussed in this election if it reflected anything other than the standard Washington agenda. One very important section but little-noticed of the bill would actually expand Social Security.

Thanks to Ken Buffin of Buffin Partners, Inc., and the Buffin Foundation, for calling attention to the Social Security provisions of the Rebuild America Act in his latest monthly Commentary. Two of the three main provisions are familiar: Continue reading →

Pie in the Sky in Eastern Europe: The Ryan Plan in Action

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has been pushing Social Security privatization for the better part of a decade. What if his plan was actually implemented? An important new paper looks at what happened when Hungary and Poland attempted something similar with their national pension systems. The results were ugly.

It’s been reported that Paul Ryan is no longer pushing Social Security privatization. House Republican leaders “refused” to let their Budget Committee chair “add changes to Social Security” into the budget he wrote last year and that passed the chamber with solid GOP support. This year, he and his colleagues again “left the program untouched.”

That’s not quite true. Ryan has now written two budgets, both of which include Continue reading →

Why You Should Celebrate Social Security’s Birthday on Aug. 14

Social Security’s 77th birthday comes up on Tues., August 14. The Alliance for Retired American is planning events all over the country to celebrate (see details below!). As well it might – Social Security’s benefit checks keep 20 million people out of poverty every year and are helping to prop up consumer spending while the rest of us dig ourselves out of debt. Some people, however, would prefer you stayed home.

I recently spoke with a prominent, U.S.-based money manager for an unrelated project. First, he lambasted the Federal Reserve for keeping interest rates too low, “monetizing the debt,” and preventing a much needed dose of government austerity. Then he told me why Continue reading →

Live from the Village: Social Security and the Washington Press Corps

Frustrated defenders of Social Security have been wondering for years why the Washington Press Corps – the elite of American journalism – are so nakedly eager to see our national retirement system gutted. FAIR explained it to us back in 1996. Time for a revisit.

In the classic ’60s TV series The Prisoner, a disgruntled espionage agent resigns. He is then kidnapped and taken to the Village, a deceptively innocuous  seaside community where everybody is happy and content to believe exactly what they’re told, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Washington – by which I refer to Pennsylvania Avenue, K Street, the think-tank community, Georgetown, and their various satellites – is a little like The Village in that Continue reading →

Social Security in Dorothea Lange’s America – and Today

Dorothea Lange, the great documentary photographer, traveled to Oregon in 1939 as part of her ongoing project to record the plight of the rural poor for the federal Resettlement Administration. Among the many stunning, often heartbreaking images she captured was the one reproduced here. The exact location isn’t known, but it shows an unemployed lumber worker and his wife in the shelter they were then living in. The tattoo on his arm is his Social Security number.

Before questioning the necessity of any institution, it’s usually a good idea to review the conditions that made that institution necessary to begin with – and ask ourselves how much has really changed. When Dorothea Lange began her historic project in 1935, the Social Security Act was just clearing Congress and heading to Roosevelt’s desk. In budgetary terms, Old Age Insurance, the section that evolved into today’s national retirement system, was a tiny portion of the whole. The checks that the elderly Continue reading →