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Yes, We ARE Entitled to what is rightfully ours

“An element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold...is the confidence of the people.” FDR Mar. 12, 1933

Last year’s economics columns resonated with some readers, evoking both support and outrage. This year I am moved to consider so-called “entitlements” such as the Social Security and Medicare programs.

These days, when denoting such programs, too many pundits and politicians use the word ‘entitlement’ as a pejorative as in “how dare some citizens feel entitled to these benefits that are bankrupting our country?”

Even our President sees fit to propose a raid on Social Security and Medicare funds by reducing employer and employee contributions, thereby undermining our trust in their sustainability without providing any real stimulus to the economy. As an employer for 34 years, I’ve observed that Fedco hires only when our sales go up and we have more orders to fill. Not enough jobs? Decrease rather than increase the retirement age!

“Our Social Security program...proposes, by means of old age pensions, to help those who have reached the age of retirement to give up their jobs and thus give to the younger generation greater opportunities for work and to give to all a feeling of security as they look toward old age.” FDR Apr. 28, 1935

In these mean-spirited times not even such skilled operatives as FDR and LBJ would have been able to get such programs through the Congress. We have the wisdom and compassion of former generations to thank for them. The health care legislation that President Obama coaxed from a reluctant Congress is but a contorted corporatist caricature of those earlier broad and generous initiatives.

What do entitlements have to do with a small seed company like Fedco? Everything. I turned 65 in May. Others on our management team and staff are in their 50s or 60s. Having worked hard and skillfully for Fedco for decades, many are contemplating well-deserved retirement.

For many years our government has deducted 7.65% from our paychecks and Fedco has matched that contribution to finance Social Security and Medicare. The money came from us to support us in our old age and it should be returned to us when it is due.

Entitled? You betcha! We paid for it; it is rightfully ours, a social contract between us and our government. If continued economic viability depends on confidence, even more does government’s legitimacy depend upon it honoring its social contract with its citizens.

Yet, many right-wing Republicans want to privatize Social Security, increase the retirement age and/or reduce benefits. Even the Social Security Administration plays along, warning in its latest communication that Congress can change the benefits and program at any time and that the fund projects to have only 76% of its needed revenues in 2042. Are they setting the stage for yet another rip-off? I am not so concerned for our generation. Even the far right will not commit political suicide by daring to cut our benefits. Instead they will take it out on the next generations, who are even now paying into the funds with no reasonable confidence that they will ever see a dime back.

This is bait and switch, to offer promises to get you in the door only to renege on them before they come due. When businesses do this we call it criminal. It is no less criminal when government does it.

But Social Security is going bankrupt, isn’t it? With all us baby boomers about to collect benefits, the present workforce is insufficient to finance them. So we are told. But it so happens that, in addition to promoting policies that would stimulate job creation, government has a simple remedy that would at once make the program fairer and ensure its economic sustainability for the foreseeable future. Presently, Social Security and Medicare taxes extend only to the first $106,800 in wages annually, exempting any additional wages and all income from other sources. It is thus a regressive tax funded disproportionately by low and middle income wage earners. Extending it to all wages plus all additional non-pension income not only would provide these programs enough additional funding to ensure their long-term solvency, but also a guarantee that all pay in their fair share.

Here’s a truly conservative notion: those who are more fortunate have an obligation to help those who are not for the benefit and security of the entire society. Don’t we owe our senior citizens at least that much? Don’t we owe our present labor force the assurance that when they grow old, these programs will still be there for them? –CR Lawn

“True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence...We have accepted a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all...Among these are the right of every family to a decent home; the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age; and sickness, and accident and unemployment; and finally, the right to a good education. All of these rights spell security.” FDR Jan. 11, 1944