Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If the Meek are Going to Inherit the Earth....

... they are going to have kick ass for it.

I tend to see the liberal point of view as more workable, not because it's better or more logical but because the human condition yearns for the security of safety nets, so they aren't going away. Also, I believe (although I cannot prove it) that such security tends to promote innovation and creativity in society. Would someone really spend 15 years learning medicine or law or invest years in an esoteric field of science or literature if they felt vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the free market at all times?

Conservatism and libertarianism are okay as ideologies go, but our society and Western civilization in general has decided by several large actions over the past few decades that free markets need to be mitigated, old folks need to be kept out of penury, kids need vaccines, and we all need to contribute, which we all do via payroll taxes. Call it socialism if you wish, but it's not. Some call it legislated morality, and others call it enlightened self-interest, ie, the only practical way to run a big country.

The Republicans have presented a budget plan written by Rep Paul Ryan that dismantles the social safety nets and changes the fundamental charge of Medicare. Instead of giving retirees an access card for health care, he wants to give them a voucher to purchase a policy on the free market and this voucher may or may not be adequate depending on pre-existing illnesses, thus leaving the individuals to fend for themselves and pay the difference, or not. What do we do with the 75 year-old who failed to buy insurance due to poverty, dementia, ideology, or some other reason when they show up in the Emergency department in congestive heart failure. Who pays?

Safety nets need to be nurtured and respected. When Social Security payroll tax money is put into the general revenue fund to pay for wars and pork, that is not respectful. If you use your IRA fund to buy a shotgun or Lexus, then don't expect it to be there when you're 65. And this is the biggest failure of liberalism in the 20th century: we've built huge social programs and then failed to fund them. We could see the impending demographic doom of an aging population five decades ago, yet we stayed in Vietnam 8 years too long and continue to subsidize corporate farms or build bridges to nowhere, and now we must borrow more money to pay for grandma's hip replacement.

Liberals are to blame because they have allowed conservatives to fearmonger and spend on wars and derail our economy by lax regulation and cut taxes for the rich. I hold the conservatives less blameworthy because they have always had the explicit goal of doing exactly that to our nation: to make government so small that they can drown it in the bathtub. Despite the conservatives' succinct and honest rhetoric about their desire to destroy Social Security and Medicare, liberals have ignored these warnings and slouched toward bankrupting what should be our precious retirement and health care funds. Medicare has been disrepectfully damaged for years and Social Security has been underfunded since before Al Gore took ridicule for his "lockbox" proposal in 2000.

Now the joke is on us. Despite having contributed payroll taxes for an entire lifetime with the expressed understanding of a defined benefit, now we are faced with a re-negotiation of these benefits and perhaps a longer working career or a poorer retirement. Democratic and Republican Congressmen never will have to worry about their health care or their pensions. Is Senator Durbin's or Rep. Ryan's pension up for re-negotiation? Can we give Trent Lott a voucher to pay 40% of his health insurance premium?

We get what we deserve and if we cannot be responsible enough to manage Social Security and Medicare, then we don't deserve them. Liberalism works only when it is nurtured and tended in a responsible manner... because the jackals will be more than happy to dissociate us from our retirement benefits if we let them.

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