Monday, August 17, 2015

Plutocrats and Social Security Reform

Paul Krugman asks an important question: since every poll ever taken on the question shows that most Americans of both parties support Social Security, and oppose efforts to cut it or privatize it, why have all the leading Republican candidates other than Donald Trump come out in favor of some kind of cost-cutting reform?
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. . . .

What’s puzzling about the renewed Republican assault on Social Security is that it looks like bad politics as well as bad policy. Americans love Social Security, so why aren’t the candidates at least pretending to share that sentiment?

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. And guess whose preferences are prevailing among Republican candidates.
With any luck this will turn out to be just another bit of special pandering, dropped as quickly as possible after the election or even the primary. But it points out the real danger posed to democracy by the ever-growing concentration of wealth in billionaires' hands. They simply don't see the world the way the rest of  us do.

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