In the Bushies lexicon, ownership is good, and there’s no dirtier word than entitlement. Social Security is a particular bailiwick among supporters of the proposed Ownership Society, as benefits decrease in proportion to earnings as earnings themselves increase. Simply stated, the poorer you are, the better a deal Social Security is for you. Conservatives never finish that thought, though, and here’s the rub—Social Security payments are no equalizer. Giving proportionately higher benefits to the lower tiers of earners is often the only thing keeping them from falling below the poverty line:
About half of Americans also have private pension plans, but for two-thirds of the elderly, Social Security supplies the majority of day-to-day income. For the poorest 20 percent, about seven million, Social Security is all they have. Even those figures understate the program's importance. According to an agency publication, ''Income of the Population 55 or Older: 2000,'' 8 percent of elderly beneficiaries were poor, but a startling 48 percent would have been below the poverty line had they not been receiving Social Security. Charles Blahous, the White House point man on Social Security, publicly criticized this calculation as ''mindless,'' and the Social Security agency no longer computes the figure. (Link)Well, perhaps not “mindless” as much as “damningly contrary to the picture we’re trying to paint here.”
If the president has his way, that picture will be of a political landscape marked with the sign: Every man for himself. (Quite a peculiar position for a man whose entire life has been dictated by inherited privilege and family connections, one might dryly note, but that is a discussion for another day.) And it is, to be sure, not an unexplored position by the legions of Conservatives advocating the dismantling of Social Security who came before him. There is a sense among these privileged men that one gets what one deserves in life, and, looking at them, wishing them a fate as ugly as their politics, sometimes one can only hope that they are right—the pricks. But fate, or luck, is a very different thing than hard work, and they’re happy to tell you that they believe with a little hard work, anyone can be a productive member of their magnificent Ownership Society.
Now, I don’t want to get into a whole Marxist discussion about the means of production here, but what these insufferable, fatcat, classist wankers seem never to grasp is that if you want to live in a capitalist society that gives you the opportunity to get insanely rich, then we can’t all be wealthy. And if you want to be the kind of person who doesn’t pump your own gas, or make your own sandwiches, or clean your own house, or manicure your own fingernails, or drain your own dog’s anal pouches, then there are going to have to be people who fill all those jobs. Most of them are professional, hard-working people who put in at least 40 hours a week, or more, and even still, many of them won’t earn enough money to save as much as they’ll need in their retirement—especially when they’re not being compelled to put money into private accounts (that will likely earn half what Social Security would have for them), since paying the babysitter and their out-of-pocket healthcare costs always seems more pressing.
People who honorably dedicate their time, energy, and talents to jobs that might not pay well are indeed entitled to something—to not have worked their whole lives only to find themselves poverty-stricken in old age. I don’t think that’s asking for much, in exchange of a lifetime of providing able-bodied service to their chosen vocation.
They’re entitled to that much, and I think we are all obligated to provide it. It’s called a social conscience, and I know the concept isn’t all that popular in the Beltway, but maybe someone could give the Prez a heads-up and see if maybe it doesn’t sound to him kind of like the compassion junk his favorite philosopher was always yapping about.