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So it’s Day 3 of my fake campaign for Congress, and we’ve run into our first obstacle

The Fake Campaign, as you may recall, is fake headed for Wisconsin, to show solidarity, and we’ve fake hitched a ride on a delivery truck headed for Rush Limbaugh’s Florida broadcasting studios—but we fake found ourselves caught up in the all-too-real Giant Grip Of Winter that has seized the Midwest over the past week.

We’re back on the road now, but we were stuck for darn near a half-day there at Wall…and if you know anything about South Dakota, you know there are really only two things to do in the City of Wall: you can shuffle back and forth between Gold Diggers and the Badlands Bar, partaking of numerous intoxicating liquors along the way…or you can head on into Wall Drug (the same one that's on all those bumper stickers and signs) and partake of the finest display of Giant Jackalopia on the planet.

The Campaign, naturally, chose Jackalopia—and that’s why today’s Manifesto is all about the fake impromptu 5-cent-coffee-fueled Social Security Town Hall that we held in the Wall Drug Mall for several hours while we waited for I-90 to reopen.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, grass grows by Itself.

--From the Zenrin Kushu, attributed to Toyo Eicho

I-90, the main route from West to East (if your fake trip begins in Seattle, as ours did), was closed at Wall, South Dakota for about 24 hours this week, but this particular delivery truck just absolutely has to be in Florida by Monday…and the delivery is so important that to get us back on the road we now have a special escort of two South Dakota Department of Transportation snowplows and two 2011 “new and improved” South Dakota Highway Patrol Dodge Charger Pursuits (now with longer lasting brakes!) to make sure we get to the Wisconsin line in the shortest time possible.

With the weather being what it is, Jenna and Tendei, our driving team, have been earning their money, in a big way, this trip, and for the moment Tendei is asleep, while Jenna and I mull over the conversations we had tonight, me and the caravan of Wall Drug customers who gathered, first by the snake-oil salesman (that’s not hyperbole, either: they actually have an anamatronic snake-oil salesman), then out in front of the Western bookstore, and finally over by one of the 5-cent coffee stations.

It was my fault: standing next to the snake-oil salesman got me thinking about all the lies we hear every day about Social Security…which I mentioned to the 30-something couple standing next to me, young son in tow.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d guess the next words out of his mouth are going to be: ‘I’ll never see a dollar of my Social Security anyway, so who cares how they fix it?’.”

He looked back at me, all surprised: “We’re not ever going to see any; they tell us that all the time.”

“Yeah, I know…but it’s a big ol’ load of hooey, and I’ll tell you why: Social Security is funded by payroll taxes that are, for the most part, paid out as they’re collected, that means there’ll always be money that we will use to pay benefits, unless we just quit collecting that money altogether, which is not likely.”

We were beginning to gather a few others around us (hey, we were all stuck there—nothing else to do…); that means my gestures were getting a bit bigger—but there’s a nice echo in there, and you can be heard.

“The way things work now, if nothing changes, there will be enough money to pay out all the benefits we expect to pay until 2037. After that, if the ‘pessimistic projection’ plays out, even if nothing else changes, we can still pay 75% of what we expect to pay for about 50 years after that. We only look out 75 years at a time, so we don’t have a projection that goes out past 2084…but, pretty much, as long as we keep collecting the money, we’ll still be able to pay the benefits.”

I looked over at a 40-ish couple that had come over to listen: “What about you two? Right now there’s a lot of talk about ‘fixing’ Social Security by making you wait longer to retire or by making sure cost-of-living increases don’t really keep up with inflation. Don’t y’all feel like if they do that, you’re just getting screwed?”

It was almost like Parliament and “Question Time” in there for a second (which is not a George Clinton reference) as the 15 or so folks listening began to “harrumph” in agreement.

“Well how about if I were to tell you that I could fix this problem, and that I could do it without raising the retirement age or messing with your cost-of-living…and that I could do this in a way that gives every person in this room a tax cut at the same time…and that, even though I’m running for Congress, I’m not a snake-oil salesman?”

About two lives ago I used to be a failed stand-up comic (true!), and it is possible to know when the crowd is turning—and this was one of those moments.

The 40-ish husband looked at me and said, basically, that I did sound like a Congressman—and not in a good way.

“I know you don’t believe me, but listen to this: if you turn a wrench or carry a tray or do anything that makes under, basically, $105,000 a year in wages, all your income is taxed for Social Security…but if you make a million a year, you don’t pay any tax at all on the last $890,000…and if that income was taxed, we wouldn’t have a Social Security problem.

Now you don’t hear much about this back in Washington, and there’s a couple of reasons why: right off the bat, this President and this Congress don’t want to be accused of ‘raising anyone’s taxes’; beyond that, 2012 is coming fast, and both the President and the Grim Weeper are trying to be the one who can look at the voters and say: ‘I’m The Slasher, and I will cut the deficit and balance the budget faster than the other guy’.

Lots of people think cutting Social Security will somehow cut the deficit and reduce the debt, even though it has nothing to do with it at all, and some of them figure that if they campaign around cutting everything that government does it’s gonna help their political future, and that includes cutting benefits for people just like you, instead of just funding Social Security with a flat tax for everyone…even the rich.”

This argument, I might add, was starting to gain traction.

“Look at where we are right this very second: standing in front of a Western bookstore…and if you go in there you’ll see stories of how people died of starvation and how land barons ruled counties with an iron fist and how we fought range wars with imported hired guns and shootouts in the streets.

Is that what we want to go back to?

It’s not what they wanted. The pioneers didn’t just build isolated ranches, they built towns, and towns with a schoolhouse, so that the kids on those ranches didn’t have to rely on a home school education. They had a Sheriff or a Marshal and a Town Council and a Judge, because they knew that they had to create some rules and establish some government.

Some towns in the Wild West, and you know I’m telling the truth about this, didn’t even allow guns inside the town limits…just like when Wyatt Earp was the Marshal in Dodge City and you had to check your guns if you were going north of the railroad tracks.”

You know what? This was working: the crowd began to nod with me, and I figured while I had the advantage I’d press the thing home:

“Now a lot of people probably think the fix is in, and what’s the point…but I don’t agree. There was an effort at the beginning of this Congress to force these cuts by threatening to stop providing any money for the Government at the beginning of March if the ‘Wrecking Crew” didn’t get their way, and the Tea Party folks came in here with a big ol’ war cry about ‘shut it all down’ and all that…but now that March 4th is actually drawing close, and the public is starting to figure out what’s up, the message is suddenly all about ‘maybe we can extend the funding after all’.

That tells me that the people who think cutting everything in sight because it looks good are finding out it doesn’t always look good to just go around cutting everything in sight.

Tell ya something else. A lot of the people who want to change Social Security want to change it into a system that rewards people who manage Social Security accounts, not the people who own the accounts, and if you look at what ‘privatizing’ the system is all about, that’s what it is: it’s just a plan to get more money out of you in the form of fees and charges, which is going to be a great big reward to great big political donors who have been trying to make this happen since the 1980s.

So here’s the reality: there is enough money in the system to pay for you and your kids to have benefits, even if no changes are made, and if you just make Social Security a flat tax, even for the rich, we are pretty much guaranteed to have every dollar we need until at least 2084, and we don’t have to cut benefits or raise the retirement age, or do any of that crazy stuff…and we don’t have to give up our hard-earned money to big banks and Wall Street in the form of new fees and charges on your Social Security accounts.

So I came here in a truck, and it has to be in Florida in a couple days, and my driver friend is walking over here, and that means I gotta go, but I hope I told you something about Social Security you didn’t know a while ago…and if any of you are fake voting for a fake Congressional candidate in 2012, I hope you’ll keep me in mind.”

And with that, I fake shook a few hands, jumped in our fake truck, and headed off to Wisconsin.

Originally posted to fake consultant on Sun Feb 27, 2011 at 10:43 PM PST.

Also republished by Social Security Defenders and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  it's a fake campaign... (8+ / 0-)

    ...but there are very real arguments--and we should be having these kids of conversations with our neighbors everywhere we go...

    "...this election has never been about me. it's about you."--barack obama

    by fake consultant on Sun Feb 27, 2011 at 10:42:22 PM PST

  •  Published at SSD n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fake consultant, whaddaya

    Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

    by Bruce Webb on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 07:25:40 AM PST

  •  SS needs about 1% of GDP extra (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tardis10, whaddaya, judyms9

    and its very good thru till I'm dead. I dont know what that equates to as far as raising the cap though.....

    Wage growth and widespread job creation play a big role in SS viability.

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 10:30:54 AM PST

    •  Wage growth and widespread job (4+ / 0-)

      creation are key.  The rightwing is attempting to condition the nation to accepting the loss of everything that depends on a healthy economy because they, yes, they, have poisoned the economy by moving all their interests offshore.  In some cases they too have homes offshore.  But as long as there is a single drop of oil, stand of timber, or discretionary-spending dollar out here, they will not do the decent thing and just get the hell out of here, leave the nation that they clearly hate, both its government and its citizens.
      Our only hope for job creation and/or wage growth is through employment of the old methods of the individual artisan, craftsman, and guild of merchants in small communities or sectors.  We will have to regrow large operations because the ones we've got have become blighted.
      When the next economic bubble bursts, and it will, may the corporate overlords and moneychangers do the noble thing and jump out tenth floor windows as some did during the other Great Depression.

      •  there are a lot of jobs... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Larsstephens, judyms9

        ...that are neither artisan nor craft worker that have tremendous potential to be organized--if only the workers in those communities were more inclined, and if there were more aggressive union organizing and negotiating efforts.

        some examples include workers in the trades, the automotive repair industry, the non-unionized auto manufacturing industry and other "big vehicle" manufacturers (caterpillar, manitowoc, and the like), health care workers, security guards and other "building operations" workers (think building cleaners), hotel, restaurant, bar, catering, and convention workers, people who move packages (ups is unionized today), retail workers, "communications" techs (think the network installer in buildings or the cable or directv tech for "retail" customers), and warehouse workers.

        i worked as a caterer for over a decade and i was never approached at any place to organize. i did work at union houses, twice, but one had been union since the 60s and the other was a convention center owned by the state of washington, which is a "gimme" for the union.

        why haven't i seen a tv ad for a union since the "look for the union label" campaign back in the 70s and 80s?

        why aren't unions running phone banks to call workers to encourage them to vote for unions, just as political candidates and parties do?

        why don't unions steal a good idea from hamas and hezbollah and the muslim brother hood and provide some form of social services to those not in the union?

        set up a health care clinic, or provide resume help, or run a food bank, and you will create loyalty among those you help...and later, if you ask them for help, there's a good chance they'll be willing to hear what you have to say with more trust than they would have otherwise.

        by the way...expect to see this little rant incorporated into a story, sooner rather than later.

        "...this election has never been about me. it's about you."--barack obama

        by fake consultant on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 06:16:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  This would be the precise time for the (0+ / 0-)

          unions to take up your suggestions.  It would pay off in so many ways, especially to counter the right's characterization of evil unions.  I look forward to seeing your story.

    •  there is one important caveat... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bruce Webb, Larsstephens

      ...about wage growth that relates directly to where we are today:

      wage growth only helps the social security funding situation if it's wages earned by workers that is below the tax cap.

      in other words, a worker getting a raise in wages from $40,000 to $50,000 is growing the social security funding pool--but a worker who's wage goes from $200,000 to $250,000 is not adding a dime to the system, as their income is already above the tax cap.

      this has been, in fact, how we got to this problem in the first place: during the 1990s we were taxing about 92% of wages, for social security purposes, and due to the increased concentration of income among the most wealthy we are today only taxing about 83% of wage income...and that amount is just about exactly how short we are, which is why removing the tax cap solves the current math problem so neatly.

      "...this election has never been about me. it's about you."--barack obama

      by fake consultant on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 05:28:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  More than one caveat (0+ / 0-)

        The recent high point of 90% of earnings (wage&salary + self employment) was in 1983, not the 1990s. T

        he 1990s were a period of very rapid growth in the share of income by the top 1%.

        While you are correct that wage growth above the cap does not increase revenue into Social Security it does tend to increase benefit costs. That is because your earnings are indexed to wage growth in the calculation of benefits.

        More rapid wage growth--BELOW the cap-- improves the financing of the system considerably, but not by a s much as people think. It increases revenue in the near term but also increase future benefit costs.

        •  Increasing real benefits over time (0+ / 0-)

          As the overall economy grows is a feature and not a bug to be eliminated.

          "Oh my fucking God!!  The working class are enjoying a share of greater societal wealth in retirement!!!! Hitch granny to the plow and get out the horse whips!!!"

          About 17% of the current population draws benefits under Social Security at a cost of 4.8% of GDP. Those percentages are set to rise to 25% and 5.9% before leveling off. Meaning their per capita take stays pretty damn even, if the economic tide rises all passengers enjoy the float. It is a little sociopathic that better purchasing power for retirees, widows and orphans in the future than similarly situated people today is a problem at all. If "sociopathic" is too strong try "tight assed Calvinist".

          Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

          by Bruce Webb on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 05:27:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  1% of GDP is not chump change (0+ / 0-)

      Devoting an additional  1.1-1.2% of GDP to Social Security would permanently close the future gap between revenue and cost, assuming the current "best guess" projections are accurate. Of course we don;t tax all GDP, so in terms of payroll taxes, that would be about a 3.3-3.4% percentage point increase in the total payroll tax rate of 12.4%=15.7%.

      People who tell you that somehow the country would stop rotating on its axis if we raised taxes that much are lying assholes.

      We can afford to keep the system funded, but we have to be willing to keep it funded.

      •  CBO says 0.6% (0+ / 0-)

        SSA says 0.7%. Where do you get 1.1-1.2% of GDP?

        Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

        by Bruce Webb on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 05:30:38 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  this is the "permanent" solution (0+ / 0-)

          0.6% or 0.7% is for the 75 year horizon. Since in the 75th year balance is still negative and growing it would take a larger increase in tax rates such that revenues are permanently above costs.

          IN general I am not that fond of talking about "permanent solutions" since future generation can and will make their own choices.  But in the current debate it is just a reference point.

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