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Rep. Ryan’s budget a disaster — according to CBO report

In Economics, Political world on April 6, 2011 at 10:08 am

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has issued a report on the budget written by Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee. (Read the report here: http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=12128.)

Here’s the CBO’s mandate:

CBO assists the House and Senate Budget Committees, and the Congress more generally, by preparing reports and analyses. In accordance with the CBO’s mandate to provide objective and impartial analysis, CBO’s reports contain no policy recommendations.

However, they do the numbers and write reports. This particular report contains the interesting facts that the Ryan plan would reduce federal spending on health programs roughly by two-thirds by 2050, more than double the share of total spending that Medicare recipients must pay out-of-pocket, and would raise he total cost of health care for Medicare enrollees by 25-45 percent. (Thanks to Henry Aaron of Brookings for that.)

And, according to Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, those Medicare enrollees, under the Ryan plan, by 2030 would end up spending most of their TOTAL INCOME on health care costs (see http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/representative-ryan-proposes-medicare-plan-under-which-seniors-would-pay-most-of-their-income-for-health-care).

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Poll results are consistent: Don’t cut Social Security. Washington, are you listening?

In Economics, Legislation Today, Political world on January 21, 2011 at 2:23 pm

The results of a new New York Times/CBS News poll mirror those found in other polls: Americans are concerned about the deficit but they do not want to cut Social Security. This is true for all respondents, whether they called themselves Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.

Here’s a snapshot of the crucial question:

Now, that should shock the “conventional wisdom” in Washington.

On another positive note, the pollsters found that “aid to the unemployed and poor” ranked just after education as the domestic program respondents were LEAST willing to cut.

Read all the results here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/us/politics/21poll.html

You can decrease the deficit without cutting Social Security

In Economics, Legislation Today on November 15, 2010 at 9:28 am

The New York Times’s David Leonhardt came out with an interactive online widget called Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget over the weekend. While it does show some bias — it’s not as progressive as many would like (see criticism below), it’s better than most similar interactive attempts. You get a list of possible changes–both spending cuts and tax increases–and can keep track of your total.

Felix Salmon’s critique of the device centers on the lack of choices. He concludes with:

In general, the NYT options on both the spending-cut and the tax-hike side tend to hit the poor and the middle classes more drastically than the rich; what’s missing here is the option to implement something much more progressive, in both senses of the word. It’s a missed opportunity, and a shame.

[And, in actuality, Social Security shouldn’t even be part of the puzzle, since it’s a separate program that is wholly funded through its own income stream that doesn’t impact the deficit.]

Even so, give the Budget Puzzle a try. You will quickly see that (1) if rational people like us ran the budget, getting our financial house in order would not be that difficult but (2) when one places the decisions we can make so cavalierly into a political context, it becomes much harder.

How the budget is constructed is a huge political issue; it’s naive to think otherwise.

That’s why it’s so important that all of us think about the choices and weigh in with our opinions. Otherwise, those who have something to gain from the system and the money to game the system (through lobbying and campaign contributions) will rule the day.

Privatization — Been there, done that — in Chile

In Economics, Legislation Today on November 4, 2010 at 10:10 am

It’s no secret that Wall Street would like to get its hands on all the retirement funds that currently go to Social Security. After all, there is currently a $2.5 trillion surplus. Imagine what Goldman Sachs could do with that…

But what really happens when a social insurance system is privatized? Chile provides a great lesson, enumerated today by a blogger on DirigoBlue.com. Here are some points:

Because the service providers are competing for the business, administrative costs (read: advertising and sales commissions) have been far higher than in the US Social Security system, where administrative costs have been at .07% of distributions, or lower, since 1990. To put this another way, during the 1990s the US Social Security Administration was paying $18.70 per year to administer a claim; at the same time Chile’s various providers were paying an average of $89.10 to do the same thing.

Many Chileans, despite living in a system that has, for almost 30 years, required them to manage their own money, actually know very little about that money.

Less than half know that the contribution rate is 10%, only 1/3 know how much (within 20%) is in their accounts, and, according to work done at the University of Chile, “few” actually know what they pay in fees and commissions.

Those who end up in the welfare program are guaranteed 75% of the poverty level; that suggests that if you’re elderly and on welfare, you’re living in poverty. Because of limited funding, there are qualified elderly poor in Chile who do not receive any benefit.

Today, in the US, about 12% of the elderly live in poverty. Without the current Social Security system in place, it’s estimated that 49.9% of the elderly would have been living in poverty in 2002.

Doesn’t sound like a advertisement for changing our system, does it. And the kicker is that it costs real money to make the transition. In Chile, the transition costs have been 6.1% of GDP in the 1980s, 4.8% in the 1990s, and 4.3% until 2037. As the blogger explains:

If we were to duplicate the Chilean experience in the US economy, 6% of the 2008 GDP (about $15 trillion) means about $900 billion annually in transition costs for the first ten years, and something north of $600 billion annually for the last 37 years of the exercise.

Ok. Now, can anyone explain why people are talking about privatizing Social Security as a way of reducing the federal deficit???

What issues would Frances Perkins be tackling today?

In Economics, New Deal Legislation on September 21, 2010 at 9:20 am

I’ll lead off with this stunning chart from Matthew Iglesias’s blog on ThinkProgress. Note that red line.

povertytrends

You see a lot of different things happening here. One is poverty among seniors declining thanks to Great Society expansion of retirement support programs. The other is a jump in poverty for non-seniors during the 1978-82 period that persisted throughout the Reagan-Bush years. This was in part driven by an increase in the proportion of female-headed households without husbands, but the same pattern appears within that subset. We then had a giant reduction in poverty among this group in the 1990s which was a combination of strong economic performance, “welfare reform,” and also the fact that the Clinton administration really wanted to make welfare reform work so threw lots of stuff—EITC expansion, SCHIP, etc.—at making it work. Then we saw a slow, steady erosion of that progress.

———————————————————

Then I want to quote the author of the new book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life by Thomas Geoghegan. This is an excerpt from an interview with Geoghegan that appeared in Salon in late August:

How did Germany become such a great place to work in the first place?

The Allies did it. This whole European model came, to some extent, from the New Deal. Our real history and tradition is what we created in Europe. Occupying Germany after WWII, the 1945 European constitutions, the UN Charter of Human Rights all came from Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Dealers. All of it got worked into the constitutions of Europe and helped shape their social democracies. It came from us. The papal encyclicals on labor, it came from the Americans.

As the Salon introduction notes, in Germany “they have six weeks of federally mandated vacation, free university tuition, nursing care, and childcare.” And, while a six week vacation would surely be welcomed by single mothers and their families, it’s the last three items that really make the difference. Affordable higher education, accessible preventive health care, and affordable quality childcare — those are the big pieces missing in the United States today. And without them, single mothers face a very difficult uphill battle.

While Geoghegan credits Eleanor Roosevelt, certainly Frances Perkins was right in there, also. We know that Perkins was engaged in the drafting and dissemination of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights. And what a different society we would be living in today if that agenda had been carried forward in the U.S. as it was in Germany and the other countries of the E.U.

Here is that Second Bill of Rights (1944):

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

Lower the retirement age and help workers young and old

In Biography, Economics on May 26, 2010 at 9:23 am

Linda Stinson, the historian at the Department of Labor, sent me a wonderful news clip this morning of Frances Perkins testifying in Congress on a bill that would have adjusted the work week from 40 hours to 30 hours. (Frances Perkins appears about a minute into the clip.)

Click the photo to go to the video.

Watching Secretary of Labor Perkins talking about jobs in the 1930s got me thinking about our current situation. For some reason, there is a huge push in Washington to worry about deficits, but no one seems to be worrying about jobs, even though the unemployment rate stands at 9.9 percent and is projected to remain quite high for months and years to come.

Some deficit-obsessed “experts” are trying to convince us that raising the Social Security retirement age from 67 to 70 will cut the deficit. This is false economics on many fronts.

First of all, Social Security doesn’t contribute to the deficit. So changing Social Security will not change the deficit. As Rep. Andrew Weiner states in Politico today:

They ignore that Social Security is fiscally responsible. By law, it cannot spend money that it doesn’t have. And the Social Security Trust Fund now has a $2.5 trillion surplus that can help pay out benefits for years to come.

Without any change, Social Security could cover three-quarters of benefits until 2083 — when people born today will be 73.

The federal government borrowed that money, the $2.5 trillion, and issued Treasury bonds to Social Security. This is a good thing — it raises needed cash for the government and provides interest to Social Security, because of course bonds pay interest to the holder.

However, it’s tempting to some in government to consider not making good on those bonds. As Treasury Secretary Geithner, famously quoting bank robber Willie Sutton, stated in a Congressional hearing, “That’s where the money is.” But whose money is it? It’s  yours and mine, safely invested. I can only imagine there would be hell to pay if the government reneges.

Second of all, for someone who spends his or her work week sitting in an ergonomic desk chair in an air conditioned office, 70 years of age may not seem too old to retire. But ask a construction worker, a waitress, a nurse, or any worker who puts in day after day of hard physical labor, and 70 seems old indeed.

Third, requiring older workers to stay on the job an extra three years will clog the job market with older workers, at least some of whom would prefer to retire. Meanwhile, young people will find it harder to get started on their careers due to lack of job opportunities.

Instead of talking about deficits, we should be thinking of ways to increase jobs. A 30-hour work week, as Frances Perkins discusses in this film clip? Perhaps. What is sure is that we need to consider all sorts of “nudges” toward employment. Creative thinking that looks at the problem from another perspective. We should turn conventional wisdom upside down.

For example, instead of raising the retirement age, let’s think about lowering it. How about making the full retirement age 62? To pay for the change, raise or even lift the salary cap, now set at $106,800. And get those millions of unemployed Americans back to work and paying their taxes into the Social Security system.

Wouldn’t that help workers of all ages?

Toward truly “gender neutral” economics

In Economics on May 21, 2010 at 7:46 am

This essay, by Frances Perkins Center Board member Susan Feiner, originally appeared in Truthout under the title, “How to Think Like a Feminist Economist.”

As a feminist economist I am constantly amazed—though I suppose I should be used to it by now—by the ways conventional analyses of economic matters completely ignore gender asymmetries.

Because I am a feminist economist, I am hypersensitive to differences in women’s and men’s economic circumstances. Women earn less, work in jobs with less prestige and few (if any) benefits, and do far more of society’s unpaid work. These are not new realities. One is, however, hard-pressed to find discussions of economic policy that place women’s disadvantage at the center.

Feminist economists understand how important it is to challenge the assumptions, and hence, the conclusions, of mainstream economics.

The economics that makes its way into the public realm consistently misrepresents the best interests of ordinary folks in their multiple roles as workers, consumers and citizens. Economics as we know it, and as it is taught in countless undergraduate courses, is little more than an apology for the status quo. Textbook economics, replete with supply and demand models demonstrating the market’s natural tendency to correct shortages or surpluses, doesn’t take the topic of “disadvantage” seriously.

In textbook economics, markets are markets. Competition is competition. And any economic system that encourages competition in markets will, by the very rules baked into the exercise, produce economic outcomes that duly reflect the wishes of the people. Your income is too low? Well, retrain for a job in a higher paying field. Your neighborhood is decaying? Just save more so you can move. The roads and bridges on which you drive are crumbling? Sell them to the highest bidder and let the private owner charge tolls to cover the upkeep. No problem is too large or too complicated that a good dose of market competition won’t fix it. There is little in economics that is “gender neutral”

In short, there is no such thing as “disadvantage.” There are only individual bad choices.

The spectacular failure of the financial sector with the attendant loss of some 20 odd million full time jobs should reveal — even to free market economists — major flaws in this way of thinking. But an intellectual bankruptcy rules the system, as demonstrated by critiques of every aspect of the theory — its assumptions, claimed links of causation and the failure to match up with historical experience.

My experience as a feminist economist means that I vigilantly watch for intellectual sleights of hand that present the interests of the rich and powerful as the interests of us all. When bankers, corporate executives and their minions unite behind purported economic truths, I challenge their arguments, their logic and their appeals to the so-called “laws of the market.” By looking behind and around standard economic narratives I can construct alternative stores connected to the real world, the actual historical record, and perhaps most importantly, the questions that are not being asked – many of which, it so happens, have to do with women. There is little in economics that is “gender neutral.”

Taxes Are More Taxing for Working Women

Feminist economists have contributed their share to the volumes critical of mainstream economics. One of our key findings is that even a topic as seemingly “gender neutral” as taxes is loaded with implications for women’s economic well being.

When we go shopping, cashiers include sales taxes regardless of our sex. Tax assessors do not value houses differently for female and male homeowners. Income tax forms do not come in pink and blue. All employees pay 6.2 percent of eligible earnings into the Social Security trust fund and all employers match that 6.2 percent. While tax rates may look gender neutral, I know that they are not. Taxes are a feminist issue.

While the hot button political catch phrase, “no new taxes,” may sound like a good idea, the reality is otherwise. That’s because the taxes that politicians pledge not to raise are precisely the taxes that are least relevant to women’s burden of taxation.

You will be much more likely to see the gender dimensions of an economic issue if you focus on ratios rather than the pure numbers. If, for example, the evening news reported on gender differences in tax payments, they’d likely tell us that men, on average, pay more in taxes than do women (on average). Facts and figures describing the economy are almost always more meaningful when we have information on both the numerator and the denominator. In the preceding example, the raw number “dollars paid in taxes” is the numerator. But if taxes paid are put in relation to income earned (the denominator) we will realize that because women still earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, women pay a greater share of their income in taxes.

For me, thinking about taxes in terms of tax burdens — who pays how much of their income in each type of tax — is necessary to cut through the political brou-ha-ha about the virtues of tax cutting.

Politicians, pundits, and professors generally ignore the way tax cuts impact the well being of different income groups. Doing this allows them to create the false impression that reducing taxes benefits women as well as men. Not so.

Understanding women’s relationship to the U.S. tax system is critical to any advocacy work on behalf of economic equality.

Not only are there many types of taxes, the various levels of government—federal, state and local—impose different taxes on different goods and services.

The broad categories of taxes include sales (and excise) taxes, income taxes, payroll taxes and property taxes.

Sales taxes, payroll taxes and property taxes are regressive. This means that as incomes rise, less is paid in each of these types of taxes. The tax burden shifts downward, the well-to-do pay less, and the folks lower down the income ladder pay more. As a result, women—who earn less than men—pay a greater share of their income in sales, property and payroll taxes.

Because income taxes are progressive, the incidence of taxation rises as income rises. Because women earn less than men, federal and state income taxes help correct gender differences in wage income.

Sales and property taxes, which are levied by state or local governments, are regressive. But, these are not the most regressive taxes: this honor goes to payroll taxes.

Earning Less, Paying More

Every time a worker gets paid, the number at the top of the check — gross earnings — is larger, often much larger, than the actual amount that can be deposited in the bank — the net earnings. Some payroll deductions have little to do with taxes, such as pension or health care contributions.

But for most women in the U.S., the lioness’ share of monies deducted from each paycheck goes to contributions to Social Security and Medicare. In fact, the amounts a woman pays annually into Social Security and Medicare are likely to exceed any income tax owed to the federal government. Women in the United States do not need more “tax cuts”

For every $1,000 the typical woman earns in wages, her employer withholds $62 as the woman’s contribution to Social Security (6.2 percent). Her employer’s share of Social Security contributions is also 6.2 percent, so another $62 is credited to her Social Security account. All wage and salary income, up to $97,500, is subject to Social Security taxes. [Editor’s note: the current limit is actually $106,800.]

Every dollar earned above $97,500 (keep dreaming, honey) is exempt from Social Security withholding. That’s why this tax is so regressive. If a woman’s annual earnings are $195,000, and Social Security is withheld from only the first $97,500 then the second $97,500 earned is tax free—at least relative to the Social Security tax.

Since men, on average, earn more per year than women, and are more likely to earn more than $97,500 per year, men pay less—as a share of their income—into Social Security. They, therefore, have more to spend and save as a share of their earnings.

Adding insult to injury, studies by such noted think tanks as The Urban Institute estimate that employers don’t actually pay 6.2 percent of employees’ earnings. Instead, they shift this cost by holding down wages and salaries. This means that everyone who earns less than $97,500 is likely paying the full 12.4 percent of Social Security withholding.

Almost two-thirds of all taxpayers in the U.S. pay more in payroll (Social Security) taxes than they do in income taxes. Virtually all the tax cuts approved by Congress in the last 30 years have been income tax cuts, and the largest such cuts have gone to the top 5 percent of earners — those folks lucky enough to live in households with average incomes exceeding $172,000 per year. Very few women earn this much in a year.

Social Security is definitely important to women. For 80 percent or more of women over 65, Social Security constitutes all of their income. To be gender-equitable, the way the government finances Social Security needs to be changed.

A critically important progressive reform would make all income — including those hedge fund bonuses out in the stratosphere — subject to Social Security withholding.

Thinking like a feminist economist, reveals this stark conclusion: Women in the United States do not need more “tax cuts.” What all of us need is a shift away from taxes on work (payroll taxes) and a significant increase in the taxes on the highest income earners—virtually all of whom are men.

A similar gender analysis can be applied to every tax issue and almost every policy issue that the country faces. But, unveiling the gender dimensions of our economic problems and the variously proposed solutions requires a rejection of a standard, gender blind analyses, and to do this, we dig below a seemingly gender neutral surface. Thinking like a feminist economist, it turns out, can be an exceedingly valuable tool for the most critical public decisions in the U.S. and across the globe today.

Susan F. Feiner is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Professor of Economics at the University of Southern Maine. She is one of the founding scholars in the field of feminist economics and the author of the award-winning Liberating Economics: Feminist Perspectives on Families, Work and Globalization (with Professor D. Barker, University of Michigan Press, 2004). She has written for Women’s Enews, Dollars & Sense and The Women’s Review of Books. Over the years she has written about gender and race bias in economics education, U.S. economic history, psychoanalysis and economics, and religion and economics, and teaches courses on gender and economics, feminism and Marxism, political economy, among others.

“The danger posed by the deficit ‘is zero'”

In Economics, Political world on May 14, 2010 at 7:44 am

Two eminent economists strongly debunk the current deficit scare tactic in which the financial condition of the U.S. is likened to that of Greece. Here’s an excerpt of an interview with James Galbraith by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

EK: You think the danger posed by the long-term deficit is overstated by most economists and economic commentators.

JG: No, I think the danger is zero. It’s not overstated. It’s completely misstated.

EK: Why?

JG: What is the nature of the danger? The only possible answer is that this larger deficit would cause a rise in the interest rate. Well, if the markets thought that was a serious risk, the rate on 20-year treasury bonds wouldn’t be 4 percent and change now. If the markets thought that the interest rate would be forced up by funding difficulties 10 year from now, it would show up in the 20-year rate. That rate has actually been coming down in the wake of the European crisis.

In We’re Not Greece, an Op-Ed in the New York Times today, Pal Krugman says:

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good, and the crisis in Greece is making some people — people who opposed health care reform and are itching for an excuse to dismantle Social Security — very, very happy. Everywhere you look there are editorials and commentaries, some posing as objective reporting, asserting that Greece today will be America tomorrow unless we abandon all that nonsense about taking care of those in need.

So here’s the reality: America’s fiscal outlook over the next few years isn’t bad. We do have a serious long-run budget problem, which will have to be resolved with a combination of health care reform and other measures, probably including a moderate rise in taxes. But we should ignore those who pretend to be concerned with fiscal responsibility, but whose real goal is to dismantle the welfare state — and are trying to use crises elsewhere to frighten us into giving them what they want.

Both pieces are worth reading for their explanation of what’s really going on. Let’s hope the message gets wide distribution.

“Reasonable” adjustments to Social Security to cut the deficit?

In Economics on May 5, 2010 at 9:02 am

With the advent of the president’s National Fiscal Commission (AKA the “deficit commission”) last Tuesday and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation‘s star-studded conference the following day, there’s been a fair amount of talk about the federal deficit and ideas for “compassionate, fair, and reasonable” cuts to Social Security to help diminish that deficit.

First, let’s get one fact out of the way: Social Security in no way contributes to the current deficit. Social Security has run a surplus for decades, and that surplus has been invested in U.S. Treasury bonds.

Second, let’s recognize that demographic trends are not surprises. Social Security’s actuaries have known about the baby boom for the last 50+ years and have noted the increase in expected lifespans. These changes have been factored into the trustees’ projections. The only surprise events that do impact those projections are massive ups and downs in the U.S. economy.

Ok, time to examine those “compassionate, fair, and reasonable” cuts:

1) Increase the age of retirement — raising the retirement age to 70 seems like a no-brainer, right? Think of all those bronzed seniors dotting the nation’s fairways. An American man born today can expect to live to be 75.6 and women almost 81. But if you delve more deeply into the data, you learn that the life expectancy for African Americans is approximately five years less than the average. In fact, among different population groups, there may be as much as a 20 year difference in life expectancy. Would it be “fair” to raise that age of retirement above the current 67?

In addition, as the current unemployment situation illustrates, it’s difficult for people over 60 to find employment. And with high unemployment rates for young workers entering the workforce, it doesn’t seem “reasonable” to force older workers to keep working.

And don’t forget that, while an office-bound executive with a pass to the gym may be in fine physical shape at age 70, someone who has spent decades working as a carpenter, a short-order cook, or a hotel housekeeper may be physically worn out by age 60. Would it be “compassionate” to ask that worker to wait to age 70 to collect retirement benefits?

2) Index benefits according to income — Look back again at those bronzed golf club-winging seniors. Does it seem fair that they collect full Social Security benefits while at the same time clipping coupons from their stock investments and perhaps even receiving private pension benefits? Why not cut their Social Security benefits to free that money up for those who really need it?

Here’s where you run up against the philosophy upon which Frances Perkins, FDR, and their associates originally founded the program. Social Security is a social insurance program, not a welfare program. If the Smith family’s house burns, the insurance company doesn’t say to them, “Since your family income and net worth are high, we’ll pay only 70 percent of the amount for which your home is insured.” No, as with any insurance program, you pay in an agreed upon amount and you receive what you’re due. Social insurance is a contract. To diminish payouts based on income would diminish support for the program; higher income workers would balk at subsidizing the program for the less wealthy. They would not see such a change as “fair” or “reasonable.”

3) Privatize Social Security — This 2005 impetus by the Bush Administration should be dead; too many people have lost thousands in their IRAs and 401(K) accounts since 2008. For many of them, Social Security is a more important part of their retirement income than they ever imagined it would be.

So, if Social Security cuts aren’t the answer to erasing the deficit, what should the president’s commission be talking about?

According to labor leader Andy Stern, one the president’s appointees to the Commission, there are six avenues to fiscal responsibility. In a letter that he wrote to his fellow Commission members, Stern listed: improving the budget process; reforming defense spending and the tax code; reviewing all entitlements including tax entitlements; strengthening retirement security; and reforming immigration policy.

His comprehensive holistic approach is a welcome change from those who have been beating the drum for cutting Social Security and Medicare and instituting a Value Added Tax (VAT), all of which would disproportionately hurt lower income Americans. And that’s definitely not “compassionate.”

Whose tsunami?

In Economics, Political world on April 28, 2010 at 10:54 am

Who stands to benefit if the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Cato Institute, and other anti-social insurance think tanks continue to control the discussion about Social Security and Medicare? At a recent conference of the retirement insurance industry, all sorts of “concern” was evinced by speakers who could possibly have ulterior motives.

For example, here’s Robert Kerzner, president and CEO of LIMRA, LOMA and LL Global (LL Global is the nonprofit parent company of LIMRA and LOMA, two Conn.-based trade associations consisting of more than 1,200 insurance and financial services companies):

Clearly, the current entitlement programs are unsustainable. Americans are going to have to take more responsibility for their financial security — especially in retirement.

How convenient for Mr. Kerzner and his listeners.

Michael Tanner, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, opened the conference with this message:

The present value of our future obligations is more than $100 trillion and as the full force of entitlement programs kicks in, it will only get worse,” Tanner said to more than 350 retirement professionals. “There is no courage in Washington until someone is willing to stand up and do something.

The real courage in Washington will come from the people who dare to stand up against this onslaught and fight for the social insurance programs that are critical to so many Americans. As in the health care fight as well as the financial regulation fight, the opponents of Social Security and Medicare are extremely well funded and willing to spend huge amounts of money lobbying Congress and shaping public opinion. They are not above using scare tactics and misinformation.

They talk about the “coming entitlement tsunami.” We need to talk about the current tsunami of lobbying and PR dollars that these groups are spending to separate us from the programs we depend upon.

[Cross posted at the Virtual Summit on Fiscal & Economic Responsibility at OurFuture.org.]