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Hannah Bell Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-14-11 03:38 PM
Original message
Social Security: Shock Therapy
Wrote this in 2007. Thought it could stand a repost what with the budget doings.

Shock Therapy
Part 1
by HB

As all good torturers know, fear and uncertainty can be wonderfully motivating.

In Naomi Kleins latest book, The Shock Doctrine, she explains how this simple principle has been used by international financial institutions to push through neo-liberal economic policy around the world. In the wake of crises and disasters, the boys from the IMF and the World Bank would show up, loans in hand, preaching the gospel of privatization and austerity.

The natives, their better judgment clouded by fear and confusion or bribes, when needed would generally submit. It was called shock therapy.

Klein has, however, been at some pains to deny any deliberate engineering of crisis by the neo-liberal shock cadres. And though Im generally enamored with her thesis, here we part ways. To my mind, theres plenty of circumstantial evidence that deliberate engineering is sometimes precisely whats going on.

Case in point, right here at home: Social Security.

A recent headline from my local paper: Social Security 13.6 Trillion Short. Big, scary number, but youll search the article in vain for any contextual detail. Just how much is 13.6 trillion? And when will this shortfall occur? Next week? Next year? Sometime in infinity?

They dont say. Just the scary number. The lack of context, boys and girls, is a clue youre being played.

The correct answer is: Sometime in infinity.1

Its the Bush Administration making its annual noises about the Social Security crisis. Alan Greenspan has been out hyping the same message. On Democracy Now, for example, he pronounced that There is no alternative to increased private funding of retirement.2

But wait a minute. Alan Greenspan? I dimly remember him as the guy who saved Social Security, back in the reign of St. Ronnie Reagan. Greenspan chaired Reagans National Commission on Social Security Reform, for heavens sake, and made the recommendations that became the Social Security Amendments of 1983. A bipartisan Congress passed them, and Reagan signed them into law. St. Ron said at the time:

This bill demonstrates for all time our nations ironclad commitment to Social Security. It assures the elderly that America will always keep the promises made in troubled times a half a century ago. It assures those who are still working that they, too, have a pact with the future. From this day forward, they have one pledge that they will get their fair share of benefits when they retire.3

Now Alans saying we have to privatize? What terrible disasters occurred since 1983?

In fact, the disaster was the 1983 reform itself. Its main provision was an increase in Social Security taxes calculated to generate 25+ years of ever-increasing surpluses, surpluses that could be dumped into the general budget to grease the skids for tax cuts to the super-rich.

In 1983, 20 million in extra Social Security taxes and interest was collected, 20 million more than needed to pay retirees. In 1988, Reagans last year in office, the surplus was 38 billion. By 2006, it was 182 billion,4 and nearly 2 trillion in bonds sat in the Social Security Trust Fund, mostly surplus tax payments and interest accumulated since 1983.5

The 2006 surplus was 1/3 over and above the $544 billion mailed out to beneficiaries that year. 102 billion of it was interest paid to the Trust Fund, and 80 billion was excess payroll taxes: 13% of total collections.6

Tossed into the general budget, the 2006 surplus easily financed the Department of Education budget (67 billion),7 with plenty left to pay for the Administration for Children and Families (47 billion).

ACF, by the way, is welfare, Head Start, child support enforcement,* adoption assistance, foster care, child care, community block grants, energy assistance, and programs for the mentally retarded, refugees, and Native Americans.8

Thats how big the yearly Social Security surplus is.

Alternatively, the 2006 surplus would fund about a year of the war in Iraq. Thats how big the war budget is.9

1. Social Security Administration, 2007 Trustees Report, Table IVB6.

2. Democracy Now 9/24/07.

3. R. Reagan, Remarks on Signing the Social Security Amendments of 1983 4/20/83.

4. Congressional Budget Office Historical Budget Data 1962-2006

5. Social Security Administration, Fiscal Year Trust Fund Operations.

6. Social Security Administration, Trust Fund Operations in 2006.

7. Department of Education Budget History, 2007 Total Appropriation.

8. Administration for Children and Families, ACF All-Purpose Table 2006 Enacted.

9. Iraq War Budget Jumps for 2008, LA Times, 10/11/07, ret. 10/11/07.

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Hannah Bell Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-14-11 03:40 PM
Response to Original message
1. Shock Therapy pt 2: Three-Card Monte
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Hannah Bell Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-14-11 03:42 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Pt. 3: The Big Lie
Shock Therapy: The Big Lie

So new tax cuts were passed by a bipartisan Congress in 2001, and once again, the main beneficiaries were you guessed it the filthy rich. The top 1% of wage earners, those making 500K and up, saved 70 billion in 2006 alone. Enough to fund the Department of Education with change to spare.

Over the ten years 2001-2010, the top 5%, those making 191K and up, will save about 920 billion dollars. Thats 48.3% of all Bushs tax cuts.1

Incidentally, thats about half of whats in the Social Security Trust Fund right now, built up over 24 years on wages under 97K.

But the Trust Fund debt, some say, is just IOUs. Youve heard the spiel. Heres Bush in 2005:

"Now, let me tell you something about the Social Security system. Its not a trust. A lot of people think, well, were collecting your money and were holding it for you, and then when you retire, were going to give it back to you. Thats not the way it works. Were collecting your money, and if weve got money left over in other words, if the if theres more money than the benefits promised to be paid in our hands, were spending it and leaving behind an IOU. Thats how it works. Its called a pay-as-you-go system. You pay, we go ahead and spend it." (Laughter.)2

Isnt he cute? Here he is again, same year:

We take your payroll taxes, we pay out the benefits to current retirees, and with the money left over, we payfor other programs. And theres nothing left but file cabinets with IOUs. And thats how it works.3

Lets not ignore his second-in-command. Heres Cheney on the mission:

Now, about 1.7 trillion of that is in the so-called Trust Fund: that is, money - thats money thats been collected thats not there as cash at this point.4

They dont sound very encouraging, do they?

The cost of the war in Iraq, waged over imaginary WMDs, is approaching 200 billion a year.5 Nine billion of that has simply disappeared6, and unknown millions have gone into the pockets of corporations with ties to Cheneys and Bushes.789

Apparently its easy to find 200 billion a year to kill people, even while cutting 70 billion from millionaires tax bills but impossible to come up with 60 billion or so a year to redeem the Trust Fund.10

Those IOUs are implied to be worthless only because theyre owed to ordinary working people: sheep to be sheared, rubes to be conned, like the rubes dying in Iraq.

Greenspans no better. In 2004, he urged the House Budget Committee to deal with the countrys escalating budget deficit by cutting benefits for future Social Security retirees.11

There. Did you watch his hands? Same old three-card monte shuffle.

Thanks to Bushs No Billionaire Left Behind tax policy and Iraq, theres a growing deficit in the general budget so Greenspan wants to cut Social Security benefits. Thats the kind of rigorous logic that earns you the title of Wizard in ruling circles.

Social Security was set up as a self-funding program. Its currently running multi-billion-dollar surpluses. Its finances and benefits have nothing to do with the general budget, or didnt, until Alan stuck his paws in. Is he senile? Doesnt he remember what he did and said in 1983?

If deficits are bad, why in 1983 did he recommend the deliberate creation of a deficit the debt now owed to the Social Security Trust Fund?

And if the extra money weve been sending Social Security for 24 years is just creating debt and worthless IOUs, how come Alan never suggests we stop making those excess payments?

Because hes senile like a fox.

And neither will you hear our party leaders suggesting we stop paying the extra freight. Instead, Republicans cheerlead for private accounts, and Democrats push for payroll tax increases. To save us from crisis, they say. Theyre picking our pockets, and they offer us every solution but the obvious one: remove their thieving hands.

Theyre lying. Theyve always been lying.

the great masses of the people more easily fall a victim to a big lie than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big. Such a falsehood will never enter their heads and they will not be able to believe in the possibility of such monstrous effrontery and infamous misrepresentation in others

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Chapter 10

1. Citizens for Tax Justice, The Bush Tax Cuts: The Latest CTJ Data, 3/07. #

2. President Participates in Social Security Conversation in Arizona, 3/21/2005. #

3. President Participates in Social Security Roundtable in Texas, 4/26/2005. #

4. Vice Presidents Remarks at Town Hall Meeting on Social Security, 3/22/05. #

5. Iraq War Budget Jumps for 2008, LA Times, 10/11/07, ret. 10/11/07. #

6. Audit: US Lost Track of Nine Billion in Iraq Funds, CNN 9/05, retrieved 10/07. #

7. Cheneys Multi-Million Dollar Revolving Door, Mother Jones 8/2/00. #

8. The Perpetual War Portfolio, Rational Enquirer. #

9. Big Contracts Went to Big Donors, CBS News, 10/30/03. #

10. Ignoring the complication of interest, it would cost about 63 billion/year to pay off 2 trillion dollars over 32 years. #

11. To Trim Deficits, Bush Recommends Social Security and Medicare Cuts, New York Times 2/28/2004; Greenspan Urges Future Social Security Cuts, MSNBC 2/25/04. #

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Hannah Bell Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-14-11 03:43 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. Pt. 4: "Ideas That are Lying Around"
Ideas That Are Lying Around

Heres where we come back to Kleins thesis. In her book she quotes Milton Friedman, the capo di capi of the Chicago School of Economics: Only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.1

Within certain circles of power, the Social Security crisis has been lying around for a very long time. In his 1936 campaign against FDR, Alf Landon called the new program a fraud on the workingman, and continued:

Every month they bring 6 per cent of their wagesso that he may act as trustee and invest their savings for their old age.the day comesWhat do they find? Roll after roll of neatly executed IOUs.2

Those damned IOUs again.

FDR won that election. It was the Great Depression, the poorhouses were full, and for some the threat of starvation hit all too close to home.3

During the war and after, booming profits kept the rich folks busy for awhile, but by the end of the 50s things had started to slow down and Social Security crisis was back on the agenda.

St. Reagan, in his nominating speech at the 1964 Republican convention, suggested privatization.4 Goldwater, the nominee, echoed the call.

He lost. Too many folks still remembered the Depression and the poorhouses. Social Security had put those institutions out of business, but in their day, the overwhelming majority of their residents were over sixty.56

Today Social Security is a bulwark against penury for the elderly. It provides 50% or more of retirement support for 2/3 of beneficiaries, and 100% of support for 1/3.7

In 1978, a young Congressional candidate picked up the theme of crisis. Stumping at the Midland Texas Country Club, George W. Bush said:

will be bust in 10 years unless there are some changesThe ideal solution would be to invest the money the way they feel.8

Like the WMDs, the 1988 Social Security bust never manifested. Youd think Bush would be embarrassed, but 20 years after the crisis-that-wasnt, hes still banging the privatization gong.

Theres plenty more scary talk where that came from, a steady stream of policy papers and opinion pieces, dutifully parroted by the media. The think tanks that produce them are funded, not by any grass-roots demanding Social Security reform, but by a handful of big private fortunes, some well-known: Mellon-Scaife9, DuPont10, Coors.11

Other funders are less famous, but their fortunes are equally large. The Koch brothers, inheritors of one of the worlds largest private oil fortunes, fund whats probably the most important source of privatization propaganda: the Cato Institute.12 Incidentally, George Bushs sister Doro Bush Koch, is reportedly married to a Koch cousin.13

In 1983, in the wake of another failed attempt to gather public support for privatization, Cato published an influential paper titled Achieving a Leninist Strategy.14

The authors start by acknowledging that Social Security is a popular program, so head-on approaches to dismantling it are unlikely to be successful. Instead, they recommend the Leninist Strategy of the title. Strange to find libertarian free-marketeers so enthusiastic about a reviled communist, but politics does make strange bedfellows.

Lenin was a political strategist known for super-pragmatism, a proponent of stealth tactics, alliances of convenience, and sleeper cells. He advised a secretive vanguard to help create the conditions for revolution, while lying in wait for the revolutionary moment when power could by seized by virtue of the same vanguards superior organization and discipline.

This is exactly what the Cato authors recommend in the way of a long-term strategy to take Social Security private. To help create revolutionary conditions, they suggest:

1) Mobilizing a coalition of folks whod benefit from privatization (banks, investment houses, and other financial institutions).

2) Continuing public education aimed at discrediting Social Security and talking up privatization.

3) Creation and promotion of financial savings alternatives (e.g. 401Ks, IRAs) to get people accustomed to using them.

4) Splitting potential coalition supporters of Social Security, such as current and future recipients: the strategy must be to propose moving to a privatesystem in such a way as toneutralizethe coalition that supports the existing system. Thus, older folks would be told their benefits wouldnt be cut, making them less likely to mobilize to help protect benefits for the young.

All this has happened in the years since.

At the end of the paper, the authors say: The next Social Security crisis may be further away than many people believeit could be many years before the conditions are such that a radical reform of Social Security is possible. But then, as Lenin well knew, to be a successful revolutionary, one must also be patient and consistently plan for real reform.

1. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, 1962. #

2. Alf Landon, I Will Not Promise the Moon, Speech of 1936. #

3. Ronald Edsforth, The New Deal: Americas Response to the Great Depression, Starvation deaths, pp. 84-87. #

4. Ronald Reagan, A Time for Choosing, Speech of 1964. #

5. Michael B. Katz, The Shadow of the Poorhouse, Social Security as the end of the poorhouse, p. 132. #

6. Abraham Epstein, Facing Old Age: A Study of Old Age Dependency in the United States and Old Age Pensions, majority of residents elderly, pp 28-29. #

7. Economic Policy Institute, Economic Snapshots, Social Security and Income, Figure 1, Importance of Social Security Benefits to Those Aged 65 and Older. #

8. For Bush, A Long Embrace of Social Security Plan, New York Times 2/27/05. #

9. Mellon-Scaife helps fund Cato, Heritage and other anti-Social Security initiatives through Scaife foundations. #

10. The Dupont think tank is the National Center for Policy Analysis. #

11. The Coors family helps fund Cato, Heritage and other anti-Social Security initiatives. #

12. Media Transparency, Koch Family Foundations; Cato Institute Project on Social Security Choice. #

13. Kicked in the Koch, American Politics Journal 8/4/00. #

14. Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis, Achieving a Leninist Strategy. #

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Hannah Bell Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-14-11 03:44 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. Pt 5: Perfect storm
Shock Therapy: Perfect Storm

Lenin and the boys at Cato agree with Friedman: Only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.

We know what ideas our leaders have lying around. Theyve been drumming them into our heads for years. What shape might the coming crisis take?

Crisis neednt be a hurricane or tsunami; it can be a financial disaster as well even a phony one. As long as people are scared and confused and will do what you want them to thats all that matters.

Crisis might look like the perfect storm of mortgage meltdown, recession, declining industries and wages, rising deficits, all coming to a head as the boomers retire and that unfortunate file cabinet full of IOUs, with so sorry no money to redeem them.

Combine that with a full-court press of pundits, preachers and politicians, all well-manicured and well-fed, none in any danger of going without in their old age, though they insist you must. All of them nattering away at you, on the TV, in the papers, on the radio, relentless as the zombies in The Night of the Living Dead:

Theres no-o-o-o money! No-o-o-o money! If you dont do what we say the countrys going to go broke and youre all going to die!

It might be that the 1983 debut of both Greenspans reform and the Cato paper wasnt coincidental. It might be, indeed, that Greenspan created the debt to the Trust Fund with an inkling that it could eventually be hyped as a crisis to take down Social Security for good.

Thats how the IMF did it, Klein says. Get the rubes in debt, then pressure them to take your shock treatment, your austerity program. As in Chile, as in Russia, where poverty rates doubled and tripled after the treatment1; so here. We too must take our medicine.

Bugger that.

Theres no Social Security crisis. There never has been. If youre not convinced yet, how about this: the projection used to hype the phony crisis assumes a growth rate of 1.8% over the next 75 years.2 Thats lower than the 1.9% average growth rate of the Great Depression, 1929-1940.3

But there are actually three projections; an optimistic one, an intermediate one, and a pessimistic one. In the optimistic scenario, long-term growth averages 2.6%, the Trust Fund never runs out, and theres a 17-trillion dollar surplus in 2080.4 So far, reality has always turned out closer to the optimistic projection than the other two. Since 1980, growth has averaged 3.1%.5 Whee! Feel better?

Not that a projection 75 years into the future has any bankable accuracy anyway.

The projection, like crisis it predicts, is a fraud, a cynical Big Lie, a con. They want your money. Thats all theyve ever wanted, and theyll keep pushing until they get it, unless they know you understand the con.

Heres the straight story.

The economy isnt the casino, isnt the game, isnt even the chits of paper we use to trade and keep score with. The economy is the real world of producing real goods and services. So long as American workers are producing real goods and real knowledge for decent wages, there will be enough surplus for their elders Social Security.

If, on the other hand, our leaders follow the road theyve been on the last 30 years: off-shoring production, outsourcing democratic government to unaccountable private power, stripping resources faster than theyre renewed, allowing infrastructure and human skills to decay, and substituting a casino economy for a real one, well all go broke, and private accounts wont change that likelihood one bit.

Social Securitys not in crisis. Our leadership is. Our democracy is.

No tax hikes, no benefit cuts, no private accounts. Hands off, ya lying crooks.

1. See discussion of the effect of shock therapy and privatization on Chile and Russia in Melanie Klein, The Shock Doctrine, 2007. #

2. Social Security Administration, 2004 Trustees Report, Table V.B.2, intermediate projection 2015-2080 = 1.8% GDP growth #

3. Growth % calculated from Real GDP 1929-1940, Louis D. Johnston and Samuel H. Williamson, The Annual Real and Nominal GDP for the United States, 1790 - Present. Economic History Services, 10/05. #

4. Social Security Administration, 2005 Trustees Report, Table VI.F7. #

5. Growth % calculated from Real GDP 1941-2006, Louis D. Johnston and Samuel H. Williamson, The Annual Real and Nominal GDP for the United States, 1790-Present. Economic History Services, 10/05. #

6. Three-card monte is a confidence game where the mark is tricked into betting he can find the money card among three face-down playing cards, a classic short con in which the outside man pretends to conspire with the mark to cheat the inside man, while in fact conspiring with the inside man to cheat the mark. (*definition from wikipedia) #

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deaniac21 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-14-11 04:03 PM
Response to Original message
5. I can't seem to find the surplus. Seems we spend 59% more than
we recieve. The trust fund is a giant pile of iou's.

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TheKentuckian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-14-11 04:25 PM
Response to Reply #5
7. Yup, just like the pile of IOUs for China, Japan, Treasury bond purchasers, etc
I would favor a separation from the general fund, raising the cap, and applying social security taxes to all forms of income.
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Hannah Bell Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-15-11 12:09 AM
Response to Reply #5
9. so you're saying if you borrow money from me & spend it you no longer have to pay it back?
not only would that be dishonest, it would be in violation of 60 years of precedent.
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sad sally Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-14-11 04:10 PM
Response to Original message
6. Add to the SS Shock Therapy the Payroll Tax Holiday stimulus effects
Where did this stimulus go?

In the United States, the job market is showing increasing signs of life. In March, payrolls rose by about 200,000 for the second month in a row. For the quarter as a whole, our US economics team points out that aggregate hours worked rose at a 2.0% annual rate. Adding in a percentage point of productivity growth to this number, the rough supply-side measure of GDP growth comes to 3.0%. On the back of this improving outlook, markets have been very sensitive to even the smallest hint of an exit . However, consumption is looking softer despite the payroll tax cut. The 2% cut in the social security tax started adding about an $8bn per month tailwind to disposable income starting in January.
Unfortunately, that tailwind is quickly being displaced by mounting food and energy price headwinds. As Chart 23 shows, our US economics team thinks the cumulative rise in food and energy prices this year will completely cancel out the tax cut by April.

Read more:

As for the Payroll Tax Holiday ending December 31, 2011, will that actually happen?

Nancy Altman called the payroll tax cut in the Obama/McConnell deal the end of Social Security. In her view, the American political system circa 2010 doesnt let taxes go back up, and so Social Security will face a revenue crisis faster with a reduced payroll tax. The money will come out of general revenue to pay for that payroll tax holiday, but that just makes Social Security more dependent on general revenue and more vulnerable. That this is all coming at a time when knives have been unsheathed and are ready to hack away at Social Security makes it all the more dangerous.

Ryan Grim asked the exact right questions, and Republicans were unusually blunt with him.

Republicans acknowledged that the expiration of the tax holiday will be treated as a tax increase. Once something like this goes into place, a year from now, when it expires, itll be portrayed as a tax increase, said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). So in a body like Congress, precedents matter and this is setting a precedent. I think that certainly is going to create some problems down the road if it passes.

Given that Congress, under Democratic control, cant gather itself to let tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire, members of both parties are convinced that letting the payroll tax rate revert back to its current spot will be near impossible.

Once you bring a rate down, if it goes back up, people will feel that. Theyll feel their paycheck being less and that argument that letting it expire amounts to a tax hike eventually is bound to be made, said Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).

Theres always a tendency to continue those things Once something comes in, its very difficult to change it, said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio.) He then volunteered, without prompting, that It would be detrimental to the Social Security system, especially when its in bad shape.


The final point: we haven't heard from the White House how they plan to defuse this new bomb they've created two years from now. We've heard from his economic advisors that this temporary defunding of Social Security simply isn't a problem because we'll be writing IOUs from the general fund to pay for it -- but no acknowledgement that that's what we say every single time we "borrow" money from Social Security, and somehow never manage to pay it back, and that that, precisely, is exactly why there's currently a problem. On the part of ostensible experts like Summers, Geithner and the others, it fairly reeks of insincerity. Obama is willing to call Republicans "hostage takers" and irritated liberals "sanctimonious", but his people haven't yet addressed how they're magically going to stand firm on something two years from now that they're willingly giving away today.

If America is expected to subject themselves to yet another Republican tax-cut experiment, and set itself up for not one, but two more rounds of hostage taking when these "temporary" measures run down their own clocks, the White House needs to be a lot clearer on why this newest one won't result in the same disaster all the last ones have caused. "Trust us next time around" is not a plan.
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Hannah Bell Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-15-11 12:06 AM
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Starry Messenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-15-11 08:48 AM
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