Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Stand Up If You Think America Needs a Better Retirement System

Face it, People: Republicans have been trying to gut Social Security and Medicare for years. But you knew that.

They're alive, they've got that going for them. Couldn't we do better?

One of the most irritating comments I get when I refer to success stories in other countries, like the cradle-to-grave social safety net in Denmark is, "Yeah, but that's Denmark." What the fuck does that mean? America sucks hard and can't do anything right?

No, that's not what that means. It means we're frozen in time in a Western movie full of rugged individualists muttering "Good fences make good neighbors." No, they don't. Good gates make good neighbors.

Before Social Security, old age meant unbearable poverty. Before Medicare, old age meant early death unless you were well-off and could afford insurance. Before the Environmental Protection Agency and clean-water and clean-air acts, it meant smog over vast numbers of American cities.

But I digress. So working together for a better America has paid dividends.

Our Social Security system is okay as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. Now that most companies in America have abandoned defined-benefit retirement plans and the 401(k) plan has proven a complete flop, we don't need another retirement plan. We need to strengthen and expand -- by a lot! -- Social Security.

While I'm at it, let me throw in Medicare for all.

Stand up if you're for that, too. Oh, and if you're not, what's your excuse? Are you one of those "not one goddam dime of my tax money is going to pay for one goddam thing that doesn't help me, only me, me goddamit!"

Then you can explain, if you will, how a robust Social Security and Medicare system doesn't benefit you immensely. I'm quite sure you can't.

What you can explain is that, deep down, you don't want people you don't like to have a good life. A good life is reserved just for you, thank you very much. Oh, now I get it. Should have just told me. Didn't want to have to say it out loud, you say? I don't blame you.

I know. People, including me, can get a bit preachy about this, but remember: We all pay for Social Security and Medicare, and we all benefit by it. True, if you make more money than others, you pay more than others. But the system was designed that way, and what do we get as a society? Better health, better productivity, and less crime.

But people fall through the cracks. I have friends who worked all their lives but didn't do well and find that they only get $700 a month in Social Security. What happens to them?

That's a question we all know the answer to. If they're lucky, they live off friends or family. If they're not, they're what we call "the homeless problem."

Expand Social Security, expand Medicare. We are rich. Let's act like it, even if that means being like Denmark, which turns out to be a pretty good thing.

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