As an advocate for older people I have always been aware of the enduring animosity that has been inspired by America’s limited but adequate social insurance programs. The opposition to these innovations comes almost entirely from the wealthy few. For most people, however, Social Security, Medicare and, to a lesser degree, Medicaid are among the more comforting aspects of daily life. Few people alive today can recall the grim realities of growing old without Social Security. A 69-year-old architect wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt and described his distress this way:
“A great calamity has come upon us, and seemingly no cause of our own, It has swept away what little savings we had accumulated and we are left in a condition that is impossible for us to correct.”
It turns out that this is a solvable problem and the invention and implementation of Social Security did much to alleviate this kind of suffering. Social Security is a sophisticated engine that helps manage the risks of life for hundreds of millions of people. It is an earned benefit that we all invest in and that we all benefit from. It is not an “entitlement,” it is, rather, America’s best kept promise. This is why we never see poor people and old people massing in the streets to protest against Social Security. It is also the reason why people like Pete Peterson object to the current structure and function of this great and venerable instrument of social justice. Who is Pete Peterson? I’m glad you asked. From the wiki…
Peter George Peterson (born June 5, 1926) is an American businessman, investment banker, fiscal conservative, author, and politician whose most prominent political position was as United States Secretary of Commerce from February 29, 1972 to February 1, 1973 serving under Richard Nixon. He is most well known currently as founder and principal funder of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which he established in 2008 with a $1 billion endowment. The group focuses on raising public awareness about U.S. fiscal-sustainability issues related to federal deficits, entitlement programs, and tax policies.
Pete Peterson might be a very nice man (I have never met him) but his function in public life is that of a plutocratic fear-monger. His foundation wants you to believe that old people are the bane of our existence that they are a luxury America can not possibly afford. There are two MORAL issues here: The first holds that a free and self-governing people can make an enduring promise to each other and then keep that promise for generations. When we set aside the lip-service that is paid to protecting entitlements by reforming, we find a heartless (almost inhuman) ideology that says: “Let the devil take the hindmost.” To use a non-technical terminology, this is “chipmunk economics.” As represented by the publications of his foundation, it is hard to escape the idea that Pete Peterson doesn’t care about the common good, doesn’t care about the value of collective action, doesn’t care about you. He is 86 years old and his primary legacy will be that…
In 2011 he contributed $458 million of his own personal wealth to cast Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and various safety net programs that aid the poor as in a state of crisis and in desperate need of dramatic cuts.
Let the billionaires wail and moan, let them gnash their teeth and rend their garments— this is America and Social Security is a promise made by the American people to the American people.