Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Do We Live Too Long?

Not to worry. Our leaders have all pledged to keep those Social security checks coming, to those who get them now. They have a different plan in mind for workers now under 50 or so. They’ll take two percent from each paycheck and turn it over to Wall Street to invest it in a choice of mutual funds. When their time comes, they will retire on their profits, like good capitalists.

One problem is that this would divert literally trillions of dollars of withholding tax revenue that has been financing the government. We had balanced the budget and were on our way to wiping out the national debt when the Bush gang took over. It also slashed taxes on the rich and went on a military spending binge. So how can they plug this new hole?

One serious answer, loudly repeated this weekend, is to raise the retirement age, to 70. Not for us lucky survivors but for our kids, and their kids. It was pointed out as a tribute to Senator Pat Moynihan that he helped lift the regular age from 65 to 67. It was pointed out that we’re living longer, so why not work three more years? Which raises the question -- who’s hiring? Corporate management, and many public services, are laying people off at age 50 - and when they do find jobs they pay less.

One of Moynihan’s accomplices made a splash by calling on the elderly ill to die and make room for the young folks. That was early in a bipartisan campaign to whittle away at social security that has been going on for 35 years. Bill Clinton gave it a slogan worthy of George Bush, when he said "Save Social Security first." Now, nobody mentions Social Security without promising to save it, by taking another nibble at it. So that is at the top of the agenda in Washington, with no serious opposition from either side of the aisle. That doesn’t mean it’s hopeless at all. The very fact that they talk of saving Social Security reflects how precious it is. People will march to save it -- I promise.