Bush's concept of "Ownership Society"

Several years ago, Newsweek published the myth that a majority of taxpayers pay more in Social Security taxes than in federal income taxes. When I phoned a Newsweek editor to suggest otherwise, she said workers pay around 15 percent of their wages in Social Security taxes because the employers' shares (half of the 15 percent) were really paid by the workers. That made little more sense than to claim that the employer's payment of the light bills for the benches or desks where the workers work is really the employee's payment. The acid test of the issue is whether if the employers' share of Social Security taxes were repealed - a ridiculous thought at the time, but one not unthinkable in these Washington days - would employers increase employees' pay by an equal amount? Make your own jokes.

The administration argues that taking wage earners to Las Vegas East and the tender mercies of Wall Street would bring a better return than the Old Age and Survivors Trust Fund. Such a gamble might or might not pay. Either way the argument ignores the social insurance aspect of the tax. That aspect is coverage of the stepped-up minimum benefit for the ditch digger and charwoman who spend decades working harder than most of us, but whose sub-living wages produce a "widow's mite" of Social Security taxes, the strict arithmetic results of which would mean retirement benefits in the bracket of a nickel ninety-eight.

Social Security is not an annuity; it is retirement insurance which, in the manner of automobile collision insurance, was designed to pay benefits on the happening of an event, retirement, and as a hedge against ultimate wretchedness in old age. It makes sense for the insurance to require participation by rich and poor alike, because there is no certainty as to who will be which over the long pull of fickle fate. And because, when it comes to the bare necessities, we are, indeed, "One nation under God" who said, "Whatsoever you do unto these, the least of my little ones, ye do also unto me." And listen to the words of Hoosier hero David M. Shoup, Medal of Honor Marine appointed by both Ike and JFK to be Commandant of the Corps: "We're here to help each other and have a little fun before they put us down in the box."

Ignoring probable advances in technology and therefore productivity during the next third of a century, which would enable two workers to produce as much as or more than three workers per retiree can today, so-called conservatives now cry crocodile tears over a putative 25 percent Social Security shortfall 38 years hence if, ceteris paribus, such gains in productivity improbably do not occur. These contrived conservatives, who have always privately yearned for "privatization" of Social Security - and lots of luck to the beneficiaries at the low end - are arguing for raiding the trust fund to fund "private investment accounts," a first step toward dismantling the program and hurling Americans back down the road of depression and into the Roaring '20s when, to borrow from Churchill, "the world was for the few - and the very few."

So whence comes the big bucks to send young workers to the betting window at the track? That's an easy question for the most spendthrift-borrow-and-squander "conservative" administration in U.S. history; put another 2 trillion on our children's tab - and legislate fewer guaranteed Social Security benefits for them while the administration is at it.

There is another aspect to this shameful scheming by unworthy big wigs. Even at modest rates, this vast raid on the Social Security system would be a gold mine for Wall Street commission brokers, many of whom just happen to have made huge campaign contributions in the "right" places. Try this wisdom from the play Born Yesterday: "Our founders gave us a wonderful piece of government machinery. The shame is that someone is always trying to make it hit the jackpot."

As an apology for the brewing scam, some phrase monger has composed the slogan "Ownership Society." Of course, the term is being exhaled by people who are accustomed to significant ownership and, by fiat, are applying the term to people who don't get paid enough to own much of anything and whose children can barely even eat enough. That brings to mind the story about a Hollywood elementary school where children were asked to write papers about the poor. One student wrote, "Once there was a very poor family. The mother was poor, the father was poor, the children were poor, the butler was poor, the chauffeur was poor ... " The view of the poor from the country club is unfocused.

Something else is cooking in the cauldron of calculation for ill-gotten gain. Didn't it sound like sweet "compassion" when the president suggested our immigration laws be relaxed into an arrangement of hospitality for "guest workers" from south of the border? Indeed it was sweet, a sweet deal for some unscrupulous U.S. employers who are already paying sub-living wages and would like to pay even less. Here is the economic principle: If you can't move your business to a country that has cheap labor, move the cheap labor here to your business.

Taken together, all these scams make up a malignant mosaic of immorality - under the banal banner of counterfeit Christianity.

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