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PORTSIDE  November 2010, Week 1

PORTSIDE November 2010, Week 1

Subject:

Erskine Bowles: Social Security's Enemy No. 1?

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

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Date:

Tue, 2 Nov 2010 20:59:15 -0400

Content-Type:

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text/plain (115 lines)

Erskine Bowles: Social Security's Enemy No. 1?

By Dean Baker, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed
truthout
November 1, 2010

http://www.truth-out.org/erskine-bowles-social-securitys-enemy-no-164708?print

Nearly everyone following the Social Security debate is
familiar with former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, the co-
chairman of President Obama's deficit commission. Simpson,
the son of a senator, thrust himself into the national
spotlight with an infamous, late-night email. In addition to
displaying an ignorance of bovine anatomy, this email
displayed open contempt for Social Security and the tens of
millions of retirees and disabled people who depend on it.

While Simpson has seized the spotlight, it may prove to be
the case that Erskine Bowles, his co-chairman, poses the
greater threat to Social Security. The reason is simple:
Bowles is the living embodiment of the rewards available to
politicians who would support substantial cutbacks or
privatization of the program.

On either policy or political grounds, Social Security should
be very safe right now. In policy terms, it would be
difficult to envision a more successful government program.
Social Security does exactly what it was intended to do. It
provides a modest retirement income to the vast majority of
the country's workers and their families, keeping them out of
poverty in their old age. Almost two-thirds of retirees rely
on Social Security for more than half of their income.

The collapse of the housing bubble has destroyed much of the
home equity of near retirees. The plunge in the stock market
that followed in its wake severely deflated the retirement
accounts of middle-class workers. As a result, near retirees
are likely to be even more dependent on Social Security than
those already retired.

Social Security also provides workers with insurance against
disability in their working years. Nearly 20 percent of
beneficiaries are receiving disability payments. Many workers
are not even aware of the disability insurance aspect of the
program, but if they find themselves unable to work due to
disability, they will be glad to learn that they had
insurance through Social Security.

And, contrary to the Washington fear mongers, Social Security
is in solid financial shape by any reasonable definition. The
Congressional Budget Office projects that it can pay all
scheduled benefits for the next 29 years with no changes
whatsoever < http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=11580&type=1].
Even after it first is projected to face a shortfall in 2039,
the program could still pay nearly 80 percent of benefits
into the next century without any changes at all.

Modest changes, such as raising the cap on taxable income
(currently $106,000) would eliminate much of the projected
long-term shortfall. Changes of the size implemented by the
Greenspan commission in 1983 would make the program fully
solvent long into the 22nd century. Remarkably, virtually no
policy wonk seriously disputes these numbers in spite of the
near universal hysteria among the chattering class over
Social Security.

On policy grounds, Social Security is a smashing success. It
scores even better politically. Poll after poll finds that
everyone from Tea Partiers to actual socialists strongly
supports the program. Yet, many members of Congress stand
prepared to vote for substantial cuts to Social Security or
even a partial privatization of the program.

Why would members of Congress be prepared to take a vote that
is both bad on policy grounds and also could hurt their own
political survival? Erskine Bowles is a large part of the
answer. Bowles is an unsuccessful politician, having twice
lost in runs for the Senate in North Carolina.

Yet, he is very successful financially. He pockets $335,000 a
year as a director of Morgan Stanley, one of the huge Wall
Street banks that was rescued by taxpayer dollars in the fall
of 2008. He likely pockets a similar sum from sitting as a
director of GM, another company rescued by the government.

This means that Bowles pockets close to $700,000 annually (at
$600 monthly Social Security checks) from attending eight to
twelve meetings a year. This must look like a pretty
attractive deal to current members of Congress. In other
words, the message Bowles is sending members of Congress is
that if you betray your constituents and vote to undermine
Social Security, you will be amply rewarded even if the
voters give you the boot.

For this reason, Bowles should be a very scary figure to
supporters of Social Security. By example, he is telling our
elected representatives of Congress that they need not worry
about either good policy or their voters' wishes.
Unfortunately, many members of Congress may find Bowles
career to be an attractive route to follow.

_____________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
interpret the world and to change it.

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