Ann McFeatters: Rick Perry takes a big gamble

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rick Perry is making a Texas-sized gamble that a majority of American voters agree Social Security is a failure, saying he should be president because heís bold enough to call it a Ponzi scheme.
Wow! Unless the Texas governor is all hat and no cattle, this is an amazing development in politics.
Ponzi schemes, as the evil Bernie Madoff showed us, are swindles where the perpetrator defrauds by taking investorsí money, paying dividends from subsequent investors to a few early investors to show ěgood faith,î and eventually absconds with a lot of ill-gotten gains. It is reprehensible. It is illegal.
Social Security requires workers and employers to pay a portion of earnings to a pot out of which retirees who have paid into the fund get a monthly stipend. The idea is that current workers help take care of current retirees in perpetuity. It most definitely is not a Ponzi scheme.
It is also (1) not broken; (2) not a cause of the nationís fiscal indebtedness; (3) sustainable indefinitely with changes.
Perry, who wants to make government ěinconsequentialî in our lives although heís held taxpayer-funded jobs for decades, says it is a ěmonstrous lieî to tell young workers that Social Security will be there for them. Heís right that his target audience is skeptical of Social Securityís viability. Many are certain theyíll never see a Social Security check. Perry is counting on their support, hoping theyíll outnumber voters who get benefits.
Perry is betting Americans will give up Social Security even when jobs are scarce, saving for retirement is incredibly difficult and the states are broke.
In the beautifully staged GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in California, Republican presidential candidates were in basic agreement on how the economy can recover. Basically, they argue it would improve if President Obama is ousted; the government stops regulating business, the environment and consumer goods; labor unions are crushed; business pays even less tax than it does now (the lowest rates in recent history while many corporations pay no federal tax). Perry is alone in insisting Social Security is unconstitutional.
President George W. Bush tried and failed to privatize Social Security. His plan was so obviously designed to profit the financial sector at the expense of the elderly that it was a national embarrassment.
But here we are again. The current leader among GOP hopefuls wants to ditch the only program that prevents millions from dying in abject poverty, a program that gives them independence and dignity, food and shelter.
Perry spells it out in ěFed Up!î ó his stunningly anti-government book full of braggadocio and bombast published just 10 months ago. ěThis was no youthful sin of inexperience or lack of knowledge,î Perry writes: ěWhat kind of nation are we becoming? I fear itís the very kind the colonists fought against.î
Perryís America would have religion taught in public schools (creationism preferred over evolution), would prevent the government from regulating oil companiesí spills or air pollution, would abolish food safety mandates, wipe out fuel efficiency standards, eradicate gun control, end fairness rules for political elections, restrict malpractice suits and return us to an era when might made right.
And when, lacking Social Security, the elderly were dependent on relatives for survival.
It is true that Medicare, unless reformed, will run out of funds because of soaring costs and more beneficiaries. But pay-as-you-go Social Security is certainly salvageable. Everyone whoís studied Social Security says tweaking it such as raising the age of retirement or some form of means testing will save it.
Weíll see if Perryís huge gamble was brilliant or foolhardy.

Columnist Ann McFeatters covers national politics for Scripps Howard News Service. Email: amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.

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