A recent article by James K. Galbraith in Mother Jones News is in one respect a call to arms – a powerful reminder of how public decisions made by those we elect to office affect our lives and jobs, houses and health, and paychecks and wealth. But it is also a (perhaps unintentional) call for apathy in the face of mounting attacks on Social Security and middle class economic security.
Galbraith is spot on, for example, in ringing the alarm bell about emerging plans to cut Social Security and Medicare right after the November elections:
The attack will come right after the election, when the Bowles-Simpson commission on deficit reduction issues its report. It will almost surely recommend deep cuts in Social Security, probably in the form of an increase in the retirement age. This is a direct cut in benefits, targeted in an especially nasty way at minorities and all others who work harder, earn less (PDF), and live shorter lives (PDF) after retirement than, say, college professors or senators.
The cochairman of that commission, former GOP senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, has made his views clear. In an August email (PDF)Â to the head of OWL (née the Older Women’s League), he called Social Security “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” He wants you to think of Social Security as welfare, not something you’ve earned—a boondoggle, rather than a program that puts money into the economy every day.
The fact is, even if you were never an autoworker, were never in a union, never owned a house, even if you’ve never been sick and never got anything else from the New Deal – whoever you are, Social Security and Medicare help you right now. They support your business: Spending by old folks is part of the income of small and large companies everywhere, an effective and stable support for the economy. Social Security provides survivors’ benefits that raise children in your schools. It will keep your parents off your back. And when you do get older, Social Security and Medicare will protect you, and they will protect your children from bankrupting themselves over you. That is, if these programs are protected, now, from their assailants.
What’s odd is that while Galbraith ably describes the threat facing Social Security and Medicare, he writes as if the decision Congress is about to make is totally out of voters’ hands. His closing paragraph reads:
The House has agreed to vote on the Bowles-Simpson package – whatever it eventually contains – if it passes in the Senate. So it will come down to the Senate. Will the Democrats hold the line? Or will they give in to this assault on the last bastion of the American middle class?
This notion – of distant deliberative bodies passing down decisions from on high, or more broadly of powerful and inescapable forces shaping our lives – is woven throughout Galbraith’s column.