The debate that wasn’t: Social Security in 2012

It is truly remarkable that social security has not come up in either the debates or the presidential campaigns themselves. Well, remarkable may not be the best word, as there is one glaring reason why the democratic campaign has failed to demonstrate how the Ryan plan, a centerpiece of the republican campaign would lead to the collapse of social security in the next dozen years. Considering social security is perhaps the most successful program in US history, pulling millions of people out of poverty by guaranteeing a core retirement fund, and considering 84% of the population opposes cutting government spending on Social Security (CNN/ORC Poll July 18), it is downright dangerous for the Democrats to avoid bringing up the consequences of a Republican victory.   Not only has the President refused to defense Social Security, but in the first debate he removed the issue entirely by telling American’s that there is little difference between his approach and Romney’s, a statement worthy of Romney’s notorious “evolution” of positions.

At first glance, it is difficult to understand this refusal. In addition to the program bringing millions out of poverty, it provided disability insurance to much of the US workforce using administrating costs less than 5% that of private insurers.  In our current economy, the program has become even more essential that it was in earlier decades. The devastating economic mismanagement in the last twenty years has destroyed the retirement prospects of the baby boomer generation, and the stock market crashes in the last 15 years have eliminated 401(k)’s and wrecked investments in housing, which in this country has traditionally been the source of wealth for middle-income families. Given that a unified front of independent economists claim Social Security will be the staple of retirement income for many years, the vast majority of economics not paid to think otherwise argue that conservative plans to slash benefits and bankrupt the system are dangerous and misguided.

Give the obvious need to defend this program and knowing the sociological and economic consequences of social security’s demise, one may ask why on earth the democrats have not been more aggressive in its promotion. The answer to this is simple and ties in with many of my earlier pieces on the problems of the media and cost of US elections.  It really is a common trend within this country, in that although Social Security enjoys overwhelming support across the political spectrum and amongst the middle and lower classes of society, support polls very poorly among the wealthy elites who finance these political campaigns and own the five or six corporations controlling media dialogue.

The guiding belief within this elite group who considers any form of redistribution as nothing short of blasphemy, is that any dollar they have to give to a disadvantaged worker is one they coud keep for themselves. Social Security is the epitome of this “unjust” redistribution. It is for this reason and this reason along that any politician who openly states his or her support for Social Security can expect not just a huge hit in their campaign contributions, but a full broadside from the opinion and news portions of every major media outlet. The train of logic goes like this. In large part because media is a poorly regulated profit-centered corporation like any other, there are no requirements for guaranteed equal airtime for political candidates like we see in virtually every other Western country. Thus, they must spend the majority of their time fundraising to pay for advertisements that allow them to be reelected. With the recent deregulation of campaign finance, the cost of elections has shot up such that this presidential election will be the most expensive in history, totaling around 2.6 billion dollars. This means a vastly greater reliance on wealthy donors, the same donors who so despise the redistribution of wealth represented by social security.

You wonder why the President has not fought the insane and destructive attacks against the most successful program in US history? It is really quite simple. Money.