By Dave Lindorff
President Roosevelt signs Social Security into law in 1935
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Let me start out with full disclosure: I'm 69 and next April I will start collecting $30.000 a year in Social Security benefits -- the amount I qualify for on the basis of both my highest 35 years of earnings as an employed and later self-employed journalist, and because I've waited until I hit 70, the maximum age for starting to collect benefits, before starting to receive my checks.
So it particularly galls me to read news articles about that program (and Medicare) saying things like:
Such ill-informed and often deliberately scare-mongering pieces make my blood boil, particularly because I know they are targeted at younger readers, where the goal is to make them believe that Social Security is not going to be there for them, and so they should stop supporting the whole program. Take, for example, the dire stories warning that the Social Security program this year has begun drawing funds from the Social Security Trust Fund. Actually, as I explain later, that was what the Trust Fund was created for! It was advanced funding for when more funding would be needed.
For years, the defense against a concerted drive by the right to whittle away and kill Social Security has been a solid lobby of the elderly who know how important the program is. They for years made it a "Third Rail" that politicians challenged at their risk. But now the strategy appears to be to say, "We won't take Social Security away from current retirees or people about to retire, but younger people will have to expect something less or a privatized solution."
This article is addressed to those younger Americans -- people just starting to work, on up to those in their 40s and early '50s, because it's really you who are being conned and who need to start fighting back to keep what was created for all of us some 83 years ago.
Forget all the propaganda! The reality is that Social Security is not an actuarial problem of too many people living too long. It's a socio-political problem: Do we as a people want to adequately fund the retirement of our elderly parents and of those suffering from disabilities or do we want to go back to an era where they ended up starving on the streets, or as a burden to their children? If we want a decent, secure old age, the money is there to fund it. What's needed is the political will and power to demand it.
The same can be said of Medicare and of health care in general. Do we as a society want health care to be good for those with money, and shitty or nonexistent for those without it? It's not that solutions don't exist
. In most of the countries of Europe, and even many in Asia, retirement is generously funded by government programs like Social Security that are not going bankrupt even though benefit amounts paid are much higher and populations are even skewed older than here in the US. Likewise, health care is in most modern countries seen as a right and is fully funded by some kind of state run program, while we have a jerry-rigged system that relies primarily on for-profit systems and private insurance which, taken as a whole costs more than double as a percentage of GDP and on a per-capita basis what it costs to deliver in other countries. And they cover everyone while we have tens of millions unable to see a doctor or to get timely care in a hospital.
To those who might say we as a nation cannot afford the hundreds of billions it would cost to adequately fund these vital programs, my reply is: America is currently spending two-thirds of all federal discretionary funds each year -- about $1.3 trillion a year -- on the military. That's more than the next 10 countries including China and Russia spend on their militaries. $5.5 trillion has been spent just on the so-called "War on Terror" since 2001 (during which time the amount of terrorism around the globe and the number of people committing acts of mayhem have soared which shows what a waste the whole thing has been). And then recall that President Obama ordered, and President Trump has backed a $1-trillion 10-year program to "upgrade and modernize" America's nuclear weapons. It's a staggeringly expensive program which serves no defensive purpose and only increases the pressure on other countries to do the same and raises the chance that we -- and they -- will eventually use them.