Friday, June 11, 2010

Privatization Peril

In February, President Obama created the 18-member National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform because, after all, now that the grownups (Democrats) have taken over, it's time for addressing the debt. (Once Republicans are back in power, we can further lower taxes on the wealthy, run up the debt again, and have no more talk about runaway deficits.)

The good news is that 14 members have to agree to a proposal for it to be made by the Commission; the bad news is that most members seem to have a preference for solving the national debt on the back of elderly Americans. Holding a different view is one of the three appointees, Representative Jan Schakowsky, of Speaker Pelosi. In an interview with Think Progress June 8 at the America's Future Now conference, Schakowsky struck a positive note, perhaps unknowingly:

[Conservatives] give some lip service to ‘everything should be on the table,’ then, when it actually comes to what kind of revenue can we raise, are closing that door and taking it off the table, and saying that they’re not really willing to consider those things. The problem, in their view, is all about spending, and of course, that’s not the case. Actually, discretionary spending has been pretty darn flat over the years. We’ve seen a growth of wealth among the wealthy already and flat income for ordinary people…It may mean that the commission really deadlocks.

"Deadlock" is beneficial- a good (actually, bad) half of the commission will never, ever, accept tax increases on the wealthy in order to cut long-term debt, even if it was the major reason for it. (The percentage of total income paid toward local, state, and federal taxes in 2009 was the lowest since 1950- wanna guess that reduction in the rate paid by the wealthy has had a lot to do with the debt?)

Obviously, one of the threats posed by the commission is privatization of Social Security. Sure, the Serious People venerated by the media, and the right, want to privatize Social Security to throw more money at Wall Street and to undermine a program which is arguably government's major claim to competence. Let Digby, first quoting from a New York Post blog about London mayor Boris Johnson, explain another objective:

Johnson’s major concern, and that of other British politicians, is that huge numbers of British pensioners are losing their retirements because every time America blames BP the company’s stocks takes a serious hit. “BP's shares fell by 12 percent at one point today on the London market, after hitting their lowest level since 1997 in New York trading overnight, amid intensifying political attacks in the US…. The slump means the firm's share price has almost halved since the spill started.”

(When people used to ask why Tony Blair was so gung-ho on going into Iraq, I always said "two letters --- BP." Just saying.)

I'm surprised it took the damage control experts (the real professionals --- PR, not oil spill) to get to this argument. "By coming down hard on BP you are destroying old people's pensions." It's one of the most important reasons the Big Money Boyz pushed for 401ks and social security privatization --- so they could always argue that what's good for Rapacious Corporations is good for grandma.

So now we have a third reason corporate America needs privatization of Social Security. Putting a figurative gun to government officials, they threaten: try to tax us, regulate us, or penalize us, and granny's gonna get it.

At least on the debt commission there are the faithful, including Illinois' Jan Schakowsky and Dick Durbin, whose steadfast support for an important public program is thoroughly reliable. Because individuals such as these would never, ever promise what they can't deliver.

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