Tuesday, January 25, 2011

If it ain't broke, don't fix it! (But maybe you can make it better.)

The Very Serious People in Washington love to talk about fixing Social Security. Never mind that Social Security is working perfectly well and nonpolitical assessments of the program indicate that it will not even begin to get close to being in deficit for another 30 to 40 years. "No, no, no!" the politicians shout. "Social Security is in terrible, terrible trouble! You must let us fix it!"

I would not trust most of these yahoos to fix a hangnail, much less a program I will depend on for much of my livelihood in my - ahem - declining years. For one thing, the most prominently mentioned "fix" is lowering benefits and raising the retirement age, because people are living longer its proponents argue, but the truth is they really aren't. Very well off people who have access to the best of health care and who don't particularly need Social Security are living substantially longer, but for poor and middle-class people - THOSE WHO DEPEND ON SOCIAL SECURITY IN THEIR OLD AGE - the average life span has not increased much at all.

At the same time that these Very Serious People, the ones who appear on all those Sunday morning news shows on television and who are constantly quoted by the Very Serious Pundits, are proposing raising the retirement age, forcing low-income people to work even longer in order to receive smaller benefits, they totally ignore a more sensible and easily accomplished fix to the program. That would be raising the salary cap.

At present, American wage earners pay social security payroll taxes on up to $106,800 of their earnings. Why not raise that cap to, say, $150,000? Better yet, from my point of view, why not do away with it completely? That would bring an enormous amount of additional money into the system, it would make the social security tax more progressive rather than regressive as it now is, it would even make it possible to lower the tax rate on those on whom it now falls most heavily - the very lowest income workers. But is any politician talking about such a fix? If there is such a brave person, I haven't heard him/her. I think they are too scared of offending those high-income people who are big donors to their campaigns.

Nevertheless, it is an idea that has the support of average Americans. The Public Policy Polling organization recently asked those Americans in its weekly poll of opinions. Their question was:

To ensure the long-term viability of Social Security, would you rather have people pay social security taxes on salaries above $106,800, or would you rather see benefits cut and the retirement age increased to age 69?

Pay taxes on salaries > $106,800 - 77%

Cut benefits, raise retirement age to 69 - 10%

Not sure - 13%


The poll also broke those numbers down into different categories of respondents and every single category preferred this "fix." Even those who identified themselves as tea partiers preferred it 67/20! (You can see the complete breakdown as well as the other questions asked by the poll here.)

Now all we need is some sharp politician to take notice of these numbers and run with them. Say, isn't there some politician who's going to make a nationally televised speech tonight? That's just what we need to get the word out!

UPDATE: Okay, obviously, I should have read Bob Herbert's column today before I wrote this. He's said it all much more eloquently and to a much larger audience that I ever could. Maybe it just goes to prove what they say about great minds thinking alike... Nah! Just read him.

4 comments:

  1. As usual I agree with you! Have you ever considered running for office? That was meant as a compliment! I think it SSI should not have a cut off (not said lightly because it would effect my household personally). The people I know on SS have worked their whole lives in hard jobs, raised great kids and are the unsung heroes of this country. They deserve a decent life in retirement. But what shocks me is their willingness to vote for the party that would take that away from them in a minute if they thought it profit them!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I find it very disheartening, Anonymous, that so many people can be so easily persuaded to vote against their own interests just because someone whispers the correct buzzwords in their ear. It is truly one of the most baffling things in our political environment today.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes but this time the parents have been voted out and the crazy kids are on a rampage! All these crazy bills will pass! If the consequences weren't so dire it would be entertaining.

    ReplyDelete
  4. We have much to fear, Anonymous. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    ReplyDelete