Surrealpolitic for surreal times.: Social Insecurity

1.22.2007

Social Insecurity

When Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke first stepped into the glamorous limelight of the Senate confirmation hearings in November 2006 not a lot of people cancelled their vacations to watch C-Span. After all, there was a war raging and a major mid term election coming up in November. However, lest we forget, the Federal Reserve Chairman is one of the most powerful positions in a capitalist society. He essentially controls the monetary and credit conditions by which we all borrow money and by and large maintains the stability of our market system.

When one is appointed, it is important, to say the least, that this position be above any partisan opinions. Say, for instance, by lowering interest rates before a national election to aid in an incumbent President's re-election. There are a host of other tactics, but essentially playing with the economy to help a party's agenda is not only arrogant, it's dangerous and stupid.

Which is why, when Ben Bernanke "warned Congress today that the economy could be gravely hurt unless Social Security and Medicare are revamped and urged lawmakers to tackle the nation's thorny fiscal issues sooner rather than later." I was alarmed. I understand that Mr. Bernanke is worried about the economic health of our nation and that is heart-warming to me, but when the President wastes nearly 400 billion dollars for a war and a third of that in tax cuts for the wealthiest, shouldn't that also be of concern to Mr. Bernanke?

So why is Mr. Bernanke so concerned with Social Security and Medicaid? Could it be just a coincidence that the Administration had failed earlier to attempt just this same program? And weren't those reforms roundly rejected by the republican majorities? No, it is not coincidental and yes, they were rejected and, sadly, this new tactic is designed to scare people by turning a traditionally bipartisan office into another Administrative straw man. Only this one might catch fire and do some real damage to the barn. We saw what happened when the FEMA chairman became a political extension of the President, not to mention the information gathering arm of the Pentagon. One drowned over one thousand people while the other killed over three thousand American troops and counting.

Privatizing social security is one of the worst ideas to come down the pike since deregulating the banking industry. It essentially places the safety net for all our elderly citizens in the hands of the stock market. There is a reason why no one spends their entire nest egg on the stock market. It's called sanity and no responsible financial planner would ever suggest such a strategy. Yet privatization is essentially asking us to lay our entire retirement savings at the mercy of the bear and the bull.

Bernanke further added that, "Absent policy changes by Congress and the White House, rising budget deficits are likely in the years ahead to increase the amount of federal debt outstanding to unprecedented levels." I apologize for waking the Federal Reserve Board Chairman during his six year nap, but we are currently facing a federal debt that is outstanding to unprecedented levels and it had nothing to do with social security and it won't in the future even if we do nothing.

Let's talk facts. Social Security will continue to take in more money than it has to pay out through 2017 according to the latest calculations by the Congressional Budget Office. If we need to pay full benefits (and we have no idea if we do) the program will tap its trust fund. Not an ideal scenario, but that's why we have this fund. If we do turn to the trust fund, it will run dry by 2046. So there you have it. That's the emergency that Ben Bernanke is screaming about. If we don't act now, by 2046 we MIGHT run out of our social security benefits.

So the next time you hear the democrats or republicans hysterically crying that we MUST reform social security, take a deep breath, relax, and tell yourself that we have a few more problems that might need fixing before the 2044 general election.

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