Holderness

Bush and Social Security (and Medicare/Medicaid)

I hesitate to ascribe a philosophy to Bush, but if he does have one, it is that government should not take care of the citizens. I don't understand that philosophy, unless it is simply the barons trying to make sure the serfs are at their mercy. If thatís it, they must have some more acceptable sounding basis for defending it, even among themselves. Could one of you explain it? I hope we are past Darwinism as a social/political philosophy.

They want to eliminate Social Security, and their strategy is to "starve the beast." Future administrations won't actually borrow the stupendous amounts they would have to raise in order to pay retirement benefits (because of the shortfall caused by the "personal accounts"); instead they will reduce benefits to the disappearing point. Then they will say, maybe truthfully, that they had to. Couldnít raise taxes, could they? Medicaid/Medicare will go, too.

The next generations will have no safety net but Bush Seniorís "thousand points of light" after that. Most of our kids and their kids will do just fine, they wonít need help. But what about people who donít do just fine, risk-takers who lose, people who are sick or have handicaps or accidents or arenít very smart or for many other reasons donít manage to save sufficiently to live when they canít work? We have a lot of them even now, and they are already having a harder time getting help. Those "thousand points of light" are charity Ė homeless shelters and church soup kitchens. Is that how we want it?

The sad thing is that itís all unnecessary. We could just leave Social Security alone; itís a great program, and it isnít broken. Minor tweaks could make it solvent way beyond our ability to project. This is ideology, not necessity. The Bush 2042 ďbankruptcyĒ projection is based on worst-case assumptions, while the Bush projections of the value of private accounts at retirement are based on best-case assumptions. Very salesmanlike. It worked for the war, why not for this?

I just hope that the Bush private accounts scheme fails, and that the resulting compromises aren't too severe. Probably there will be at least a big boost to the retirement age, to delay paying benefits and to avoid having to pay them for long. I doubt theyíll raise the cap on income subject to SS contributions. (That would be so unfair!) Means testing for Social Security recipients seems like a decent idea to me, but I don't think it is under consideration.

-- J. H.