Saturday, March 27, 2004

The United Socialist States of America: Part Two

In part one, I made some pretty harsh claims about Social Security – you know how its name implies a sense of “security” then when you reach your golden years you find out that what it really does is leave you penniless on a subsistence check. Then, if you end up not being able to live on your own, the government takes all your assets and throws you in a “home”. If you’re lucky, your relatives might have enough to bury you but if not, tough luck because the government’s pittance to bury paupers is a measly $250 – not even enough for a pine box. I’ll admit, it does sound harsh. But it happens all the time in the land of the free and the home of the brave. How many of you know a relative of have heard of a friend’s relative who had to sell an elderly relative’s house because they had to move to a nursing home? How many people have heard the advice that smart families transfer the assets out of grandma and grandpa’s names so they don’t get taken away before they die penniless and on Title 19? It’s a hell of a deal isn’t it? Bust your ass your entire life to save what you can for retirement and end up having it taken all way from you before you die broke. That’s been the promise of Social “Security” for many low to middle income people in the past.

Of course we’ve got the leg up on grandma and grandpa because we’ve come to realize that Social Security wasn’t intended to be the be all and end all of our retirement savings. That’s what 401ks and IRA and various other investment accounts are all about. That’s all well and good. But take a look at your Social Security outlay on your next check and realize that the 7.5% your employer pays basically doubles the amount you see on your check. Then think about the fact that all of this could be cash in your check if the government wasn’t taking it out to pay someone else’s benefit. Then think about how much farther along you’d be towards saving for retirement if that money – your money – was actually yours to save and invest. Most of us probably would have been able to survive the last bear market in pretty good shape. While you’re at it, think about the fact that right now you are busting your ass to save for retirement in spite of Social “Security” – Social “Security” that might not even be there when you retire. This, in itself, is an admission that Social “Security” is a failure – it impedes your efforts to save for your retirement by transferring your money to someone else.

The solution to this Social Security boondoggle is simple – personal responsibility (what a novel concept!) Give the money back to the people who earned it and trust them to save for their own retirement – something liberals think we’re all too stupid to do. We can’t be trusted with our own money because we’ll piss it away. There a simple solution to this. Make people prove on their tax return (or by some other means if we wise up and eliminate the income tax in favor of a flat tax – fat chance) that they are saving at least the 15% they would have contributed to Social Security. I’m not one to favor big government, but if a little more big brother will give me my hard-earned money back to invest for myself, I can handle it. If some people just can’t bring themselves to save for retirement, have the government take it out of their check and piss it down a rat hole as they do with all of our money now. At any rate, it’s your choice. And I’ll bet you any amount of money that most of us could do a better job with our money than the government can. While you’re at it, you might have enough to help your folks out in their old age as was the case before everybody got caught up in the notion that grandma and grandpa’s well-being in their golden years was the government’s problem.

This leaves the question of what to do with the old folks we’ve sold up the river with this scam. Have a phase out of the payroll deduct and the benefit so that Social Security in it’s current form goes away as current recipients die off. We don’t need it. It doesn’t work. Phase it out and get rid of it.

When it comes to the creeping rot of Socialism, it’s a viscous cycle. People who don’t have their own money to save and invest for their old age because the government is taking it from them under the guise of helping them probably don’t have the money to save for medical expenses either. That’s okay, we’ve got another big, wasteful nanny-state solution to the problem – Medicare.

Medicare, that second-biggest Socialist boondoggle, now costs the taxpayers $250 billion a year, up from $109 billion a year just 14 years ago which was some $100 billion more than it was actually projected to cost in 1990 when it was conceived in the early 60s. Incidentally, Medicare is now projected to go bankrupt in 2019 if we don’t do something now (read, raise taxes or reduce benefits or both) and to top it all off, we’re about to add another $60 billion or more to it with the recent prescription drug boondoggle. Medicare is just a small part of the overall third-party-payer system of health care we have in this country that’s helped drive health care costs through the roof. In fact, you can trace the beginning of the true explosion in health care costs back to the mid-60’s when the government began paying health care expenses for the elderly and the supposedly indigent through Medicare and Medicaid. Couple that with the widespread belief that it’s up to someone else to provide our health care (typically employer with the help of a health insurance policy – admittedly with some of the premium paid by the employee) and any semblance of a free-market system for health care has flown completely out the window. After all, if you’re not paying for it, what does it matter how much it costs?

This whole deal has come back to bite us in the ass because now we have health insurance companies jacking up insurance rates to us to help them pay for huge increases in medical expenses brought about, in part, by the fact that people don’t care how much the insurance company pays because at lest they’re not paying. (A patently false and shortsighted belief.) In the middle of this whole mess you have Medicare, where retirees still have to pay thousands of dollars a year for insurance to cover what Medicare doesn’t pay AND a premium taken out of their Social “Security” check every month to pay for Medicare. We’ve managed to mess up the entire health care system pretty badly through the notion that that has blossomed since the days of FDR that we shouldn’t have to be responsible for paying our own medical expenses. Because this backwards notion has been allowed to proliferate and because of the outrageous cost of health care, there is no easy solution to this one. Medical savings accounts are a part of the solution, but not all of it by any means. Anyone who has spent any time at all looking at the failure of socialized medicine around the world knows that socialized medicine – the Kerry campaign’s code words for it are “affordable health care for all” – isn’t the answer either. If it was, we wouldn’t have the absolute best and most advanced health care in the world right here, despite the shortcomings in our funding of it. (And you commies out there don’t bother trying to tell me that the best health care in the world exists in Cuba) We also wouldn’t have rich people from foreign countries with socialized medicine flocking here for health care when the private pay health care system in their country isn’t up to the task. Yes, just because places like Great Britain and Canada have socialized medicine doesn’t mean they don’t have private health care. The well-paid doctors treat the rich and the poor doctors work for the inferior public systems the government has so benevolently established for the “peasants”. (Much like “affordable health care for all” would end up being here.)

These, the two biggest social programs are shining examples of the failures of this great country’s experiments with socialism: “From each according to his ability to each according to his need” just doesn’t work. This country didn’t grow into the most successful civilization in the history of the planet in just over 200 years by redistributing wealth, but politicians these days – on the right as well as the left – don’t want to confront the situation and bring about real change. All they want to do is tinker with these two failed experiments in socialism, keeping them on life support for a few more years when what we really need to do is admit that the patients are both brain dead, pull the plug and start over. The left doesn’t want to do this because they are intent on growing and nurturing their classist nanny-state where the government takes care of us peasants who are too stupid to fend for ourselves. The right doesn’t have the guts to confront the issue either. Why? Because at the mere mention of the smallest of changes in Social “Security”, they know the leftists will demagogue them out of office with the notion that Trent Lott, George Bush, John Ashcroft and Dick Cheney will personally be running from house to house and hospital bed to hospital bed throwing old people out into the gutters and torching their homes. Remember in 2000 when the mention of allowing people to invest 2% of their Social ‘Security” money caused Gore, Daschle, Gephardt and the like to just about blow a gasket? I beleive the mantra was “George W. Bush wants to gamble with YOUR Social Security”.Two percent, for God’s sake! The next time the issue of what to do to keep Social Security and Medicare limping along comes up, we all need to make our voices heard. We need to let the politicians know that we need real reform, not just another Band-Aid solution that robs us of our prosperity while promising only that the Social “Security” trust fund might – might – last another 1.49782 years longer.

But all is not lost in the land of the Great Society. We’ve been making slow but steady progress in reducing the dependence of the slothful on that other set of socialist programs – food stamps and housing assistance, commonly known as welfare. Although we’ve seen reductions in the welfare roles over the past eight or nine years, the government still shamelessly pushes these programs worse the a pushy telemarketer. And the maddening part about these programs is that a little personal responsibility would go a long way to virtually eliminating them altogether, leaving what’s left of them to go to the truly needy.

Take the food stamp program. (Oh, I forgot, it’s now officially a nutrition program. Apparently it’s easier to sell the idea that the nanny state is making sure “low income” kids are being well nourished than it is to sell the idea that the nanny-state is feeding them.) What parent of an elementary school kid hasn’t see the shameless way the schools push food stamps and the school lunch program? As a parent I’ve witnessed it myself. And I’m sure it’s a lot worse in cities than it is in flyover country where I live. At school registration a couple weeks before school starts, they pepper you with questionnaires and flyers telling you to think about what your income is and giving you the guidelines at which you would qualify for free or reduced price lunches. These flyers also inform you that, if you already get food stamps, you’re a shoo-in for free lunches for your kids. Of course they also point out the reverse: if you qualify for free lunches and you don’t get food stamps yet, by golly we can hook you up with food stamps quicker than you can say “I’m hungry.” Whatever happened to the good ole’ PB&J in a paper sack? You can bet that peanut butter costs less than giving away free lunches. If I couldn’t afford to buy my kids hot lunch, that’s the route I would take. But there are a lot of welfare pushers out there paid by our tax dollars to sell these programs. Without the programs, they wouldn’t have a job. And their job is to convince “poor” people that filling out an application and getting a free lunch for your kid is a lot easier in the long term than coming up with creative, low-cost cold lunch ideas. And it doesn’t stop at school. One of the first things many immigrants are taught upon arriving in this country – in their language, not the one we speak here – English – is how to access the welfare system. And just in just in case this isn’t enough instruction on how to get the taxpayers to buy your food for you, you can just go surf the web. (Considering that 48% of the households in this country that are classified as below the poverty line own their homes and 96% of all “poverty stricken” households have a color television or two, there’s probably a fairly good number that have computer and Internet access as well.) The first ten or so hits that pop up when you type “food stamps” into Google offer to show you how to access the food stamp program.

And of course, wherever you’ve got a social program, you’ve got the Democrats there to demagogue any opposition to it. Any suggestion that we modify the food stamp or school lunch programs is met with cries that Republicans want to see children starve. We’re an evil bunch, us conservatives; we drag the aged kicking and screaming out of their homes, burn them down, thrown them out of the hospitals, and for an encore, we run around snatching food out of the mouths of starving children.

Despite my rant about food stamps, we’ve made significant progress in reducing welfare dependency in this country over the past eight or nine years. This is due to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. You know that any act containing the words “personal responsibility” in the title couldn’t have anything to do with Democrats and it didn’t. Welfare reform was a part of the Republican Contract with America. Democrats were forced to go along with it because of its overwhelming popularity. Then, William Jefferson “I did not have sex with that woman” Clinton was basically forced to sign it into law. Of course he didn’t believe in it. But he could use it as a campaign issue – he signed it into law less than three months before the 1996 election – and with the public’s strong support of the elements of the Contract With America, he could ill afford to veto it and hope to win reelection.

It worked. In 1995, we spent $22 billion on the food stamp program and by 2001 we’d reduced that to $17 billion. But it had crept back up to $19 billion in 2002. Presumably, in continued back in the wrong direction in 2003. If GW and the congress don’t have the political will to do something more to reduce welfare spending, we’ll be right back where we started – and worse – in no time. Newt Gingrich attacked the problem (and a whole host of others) head on and for it, his ideas were demagogued to death and he was run out of town on a rail.

Admittedly, the food stamp program is peanuts when you compare it to the rampant, out of control, bankrupt socialist system of Social “Security” and Medicare – along with the massive senior citizen drug “giveaway”. But with the same type of political courage and vision of the Contract with America and the right plan, we can come up with a solution to this broken, socialist system. Not only can we, we have to. Because from each according to his ability to each according to his need is becoming too widely accepted in this country. If we don’t’ get away from this notion that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to take care of me – or my relatives – in our old age, or to feed my family if I don’t have the will to do it, this mentality will be so entrenched in our society that one day it will be full-blown Socialism in the USA.

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