MON AUG 17, 2015 AT 10:37 AM PDT
Krugman: Why All The Republican Candidates Are Attacking Social Security
Historically speaking, politicians who have attacked Social Security (oft-described as the “Third Rail” in American politics) have not fared well with the American people. The program, originally designed to provide supplemental retirement security for all Americans, is actually a critical financial lifeline for millions. Many elderly people would either be pushed into squalid, poorly equipped nursing homes, forced to live with their children (assuming they have them) or cast out into the streets without the modest monthly income most paid taxes for all their lives to support and ensure. When George W. Bush began to push to “privatize” Social Security into accounts dependent on the stock market, his efforts were quickly squelched by Democrats and even some Republicans who responded to the public’s overwhelming disapproval of such measures. In retrospect this probably saved millions of older Americans from becoming destitute when the Bush economy crashed in 2007-2008, wiping out billions in stock values.
It seems, however, that the near-universal popularity of Social Security has failed to make much of an impression on nearly all of the current Republican candidates for President, who have publicly announced their intent to impose cuts in benefits, privatization, or other drastic reductions to a program that is neither “insolvent” nor in any financial peril: Thus, Jeb Bush says that the retirement age should be pushed back to “68 or 70”. Scott Walker has echoed that position. Marco Rubio wants both to raise the retirement age and to cut benefits for higher-income seniors. Rand Paul wants to raise the retirement age to 70 and means-test benefits. Ted Cruz wants to revive the Bush privatization plan.
Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, writing for the New York Times, thinks he knows why the new and prevailing Republican line is so completely contrary to what the vast majority of Americans want–it’s the simple fact that these GOP candidates do not represent the vast majority of Americans. In fact, they only represent a tiny, miniscule sliver of Americans, barely enough to fit into a skybox at a professional football game. That is the entirety of the American electorate to whom these candidates are beholden to. And that tiny group wants to get rid of Social Security: The answer, I’d suggest, is that it’s all about the big money. Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.
And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut.
The study Dr. Krugman refers to was conducted by Northwestern University and is titled Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans. As far as academic studies go it’s fascinating stuff, a one-of-a kind window into the mind of the one percent highest wage earners in the country. One of the marked findings of the study was how active wealthy Americans are–vastly more active compared to the rest of the population. And these folks think they know what’s best for the rest of us, particularly with regard to Social Security: We have seen that our wealthy respondents—in sharp contrast to the general public—tilted toward cutting rather than expanding Social Security.The SESA survey did not explore precisely how such cuts would be made. But the proposals for doing so that have been put forward by various experts, politicians, and deficit-reduction commissions—raising the retirement age at which benefits can be received, slowing cost-of-living adjustments, and the like—mostly appear to be opposed by majorities of the general public.
But in reality the 130 or so families who are now effectively in charge of the Republican Party are not even the “1%”. They are a much tinier sliver, and it is they who are entirely calling the shots for these candidates. As the study notes, these people are far more conservative, overall, than even the top 1%:
Variation within this wealthy group suggests that the top one-tenth of 1 percent of wealthholders (people with $40 million or more in net worth) may tend to hold still more conservative views that are even more distinct from those of the general public.
As a result, the Republican candidates, beholden to these ultra-conservative Billionaire donors, must mold their policy positions to accommodate their desires. And this is how and why the Republican Party functions–not as a vehicle for the needs of their actual constituents–the folks who keep marching into the voting booth and pulling the “R” lever because they’ve been brainwashed by the NRA gun-industry lobby into believing Obama will take their guns away– but as a means for their donors to ultimately privatize–and profit off of–the vast amounts of money that go into the Social Security system through our payroll taxes. This despite the fact that 80% of Americans oppose raising the retirement age, which most see as a prelude to more and more cuts. It doesn’t matter to them, for example, that lifting the payroll cap of $118,500 would resolve Social Security’s funding issues in an instant. The fact is that the abolition or privatization of Social Security has been a longterm goal for decades by those who now control the Republican Party: In 1980, the platform of David Koch’s Libertarian Party called for “the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system.” Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of 1 percent of the American people. Today, the mainstream view of the Republican Party is that “entitlement reform” is absolutely necessary.
It’s important to recognize that the desire to transform or eliminate Social Security at the behest of these Billionaires is not limited to these particular candidates. The Republican Congress and Senate are just as much under the control of the Kochs and their ilk. As a result a Republican in the White House would encounter little if any resistance to implementing these cuts from the very institution that would vote them into existence. Krugman concludes by describing the implications this has for the rest of us: What this means, in turn, is that the eventual Republican nominee … will be committed not just to a renewed attack on Social Security but to a broader plutocratic agenda. Whatever the rhetoric, the GOP is on track to nominate someone who has won over the big money by promising government by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.