A new survey by Sun Life Financial claims that nearly half of all workers questioned would like to stop paying into Social Security, even if that means they don't get any benefits when they retire. They report more workers in their 30's share this view (59 percent) than those facing retirement soon, 60 and older (33% percent).
On the one hand, you might be surprised to see such results at the same time millions of Americans who did
save for retirement, are watching their nest eggs disappear
during this current market meltdown. Without Social Security, even retirees who "did the right thing", only to see their savings evaporate, would now face poverty. So why would they give up one of the few guaranteed and secure retirement income sources American workers currently have?
Philip Moeller at US News and World Report
speculates this negativity about Social Security, although misplaced, could be blamed on the general negativity we all feel about our economic futures right now. He could be right. However, we offer an additional explanation. Americans who've grown up hearing Social Security won't be there for them, may be starting to believe it. The well-worn argument against Social Security
goes something like this:
The promise of secure benefits is a "hoax", the taxes paid into the trust fund are "wasted" by the government rather than prudently invested and "the so-called reserve fund...is no reserve at all".
Sounds like President George Bush, right? In this case, the comments come from GOP Presidential candidate Alf Landon
and his party's 1936 platform, a year before the first Social Security check was even delivered.
Now let's fast forward a few decades
when Senator and 1964 Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater said:
"The first thing wrong with Social Security is the fact that it is compulsory. Secondly, it is not actuarially sound: It promises more benefits to more people than the incomes collected will provide."
According to historian MichaelBeschloss, Goldwater also said, "perhaps Social Security should be abolished."
After generations of trying unsuccessfully to convince the American people to turn against one of the nation's most successful government programs, Social Security opponents took a new tack. In 1983, they called their new plan "guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it". Their primary goal described in the Cato Journal
was to convince the American people Social Security wouldn't be there for them in retirement. This strategy was designed using privatization to dismantle Social Security all together.
"The aim is to weaken political support for the present system when the next financial crisis appears." and "The retired population might then come to realize that they have not purchased an earned annuity but instead are receiving a tremendous welfare subsidy. Younger workers, on the other hand, would see just how much of a loss they are taking by participating in the program. This mechanism for demonstrating the individual gains and losses that occur under Social Security is a key step in weakening public support for the present system."
Of course, this is exactly the path President George Bush followed in his failed attempts to privatize Social Security
. The American people rejected his private accounts plan and given the current fiscal meltdown...they're glad they did.
But as you can see, regardless of the decade or the specific approach, the underlying message is and continues to be the same. "Social Security won't be there for you"..."Social Security is flawed" and the newest incarnation..."we can't afford Social Security". This, in spite of the overwhelming facts to the contrary
Today, David Walker and the Peterson Foundation are picking up the anti-Social Security clarion call. Wealthy financier and former Nixon Commerce Secretary, Pete Peterson
has invested $1 billion dollars of his personal fortune to continue the campaign against programs serving America's seniors. This time the same-tried and true "Social Security won't be there for you" message is wrapped in a cloak of fiscal responsibility
Peterson is no stranger to the battle against America's retirement safety net. He's called the current cost of living increases
in Social Security, which provide adjustments of roughly 3% a year, "one of the greatest fiscal tragedies of American history" because he considers them excessive. At the same time, Peterson steadfastly defends a controversial private equity tax break that benefits America's wealthiest investors. So much for fiscal responsibility.
So when someone tells you "Social Security won't be there for me" remember the countless Washington think-tankers, Social Security foes and their allies in Congress who have spent their careers and millions (eventually billions) of dollars selling us that exact message. Ultimately, American workers and their families must sort the facts from the fiction
and in the end we must not Buy the Lie
we're being sold on Social Security.
**Late addition: Bruce Webb at Angry Bear has just posted a wonderful piece on the history of Cato's campaign against Social Security. It's a must-read!