Under Bush's direction, Social Security would eventually become a welfare program as many others have said. The wealthy don't need or notice it, and the middle class would see huge benefit cuts and the requirement to make up the difference with their own investment initiative. The poorest Americans would get roughly the same deal they get now: a stay-out-of-abject-poverty card. An important element, but hardly a greatly increased benefit to low-income families.
But who really benefits from Social Security?
As Josh Marshall wrote last week, middle class families make valiant use of the retirement security they are afforded. They use that breathing space to stoke the national economy, and pass on greater opportunity to their children and grandchildren, in immeasurable ways:
Social Security's support of the poorest Americans is a critical part of what it accomplishes. But Social Security is not poor relief. That is only what the president wants to make it -- in part because, once it is, it is far easier to cut further, since it has no organized political constituency.And today, Paul Krugman argues convincingly that the real reason behind this phase out of Social Security for the middle class is to facilitate the program's demise:
Social Security is the sheet anchor of the modern American middle class. It's why working Americans can approach retirement with an assurance of security and a modicum of leisure. It stimulates economic vitality by creating a floor of security that facilitates economic risk-taking in investment and business. It's why parents don't have to shortchange investment in children's education by supporting parents in their old age. It provides economic security to families hit by catastrophe and misfortune in mid-life. As I said, it's the sheet anchor of what we've come to know in the last century as middle class life.
"For millions of workers," [Jason] Furman [of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities] writes, "the amount of the monthly Social Security check would be at or near zero."And, finally, as Josh wrote Saturday,
So only the poor would receive Social Security checks - and regardless of what today's politicians say, future politicians would be tempted to reduce the size of those checks.
The important thing to understand is that the attempt to turn Social Security into nothing but a program for the poor isn't driven by concerns about the future budget burden of benefit payments. After all, if Mr. Bush was worried about the budget, he would be reconsidering his tax cuts.
No, this is about ideology: Mr. Bush comes to bury Social Security, not to save it. His goal is to turn F.D.R.'s most durable achievement into an unpopular welfare program, so some future president will be able to attack it with tall tales about Social Security queens driving Cadillacs.
Social Security is neither a poorly designed welfare program nor an investment plan with a poor rate of return. And the privatizers are losing this national debate because Americans, overwhelmingly, understand that.Tell everyone you know.
Social Security is a defined-benefit Social Insurance program that provides a baseline level of retirement security for everyone. Middle class people pay into the program during their working lives and they get benefits back when they retire.
That is not a flaw in the design. That is the design.