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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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    Social Security and the “Lock Box, A Delayed Solution”

    by | Jul 17, 2010

    When Social Security (SS) was signed into law in 1935, the poverty rate among seniors exceeded 50%. As far as I know, there were no private retirement programs at that time. Unless a senior was wealthy, they either had to work until they died or depend upon family to care for them. I will not go into the discrimination (against women, minorities, and certain types of employment) that was later legislated out of the original bill but, in general, for the first time this country took a stand that protected many, but not all, of the elderly from abject poverty. Today, it is estimated that all that stands between poverty and 40% of the elderly is Social Security.

    As first established, the payroll tax to fund the system flowed into the general revenue fund for the federal government. However, in 1939, Congress created the Social Security Trust Fund to manage surplus funds and this Trust had the power to invest the surplus in marketable and non-marketable securities. In other words, like a private retirement account, the growth of surplus funds was intended to handle future retirements. In 2007, according to one source, there was a cumulative surplus of $2.2 trillion dollars in taxes and interest after benefits were paid.

    Unfortunately, the Trust loans any excess money to the federal government in the form of bonds, giving Congress a ready source of funds. Of course these bonds have to be repaid, with interest, by more taxes later. The system is in trouble because the government borrowed the surplus, spent it, and now does not have the resources to repay the Trust. The way it looks, Bush was correct in referring to these bonds as “just IOUs that I saw firsthand.”

    In 2000, during the Presidential campaign, Al Gore talked about placing Social Security funds into a “lock box.” Everybody laughed at him and thought the idea of a “lock box” was silly. Essentially, what Gore proposed was to stop lending surplus funds to the government. He wanted SS and Medicare placed off-limits to politicians. If this had happened, and that is a very big IF, projections were that SS would be self-sustaining, essentially forever.

    The current debate would lead one to think that SS is a flawed system. Not so. It is the huge debt owed the Trust by the government that is the problem. The flaw is that both parties raped the system by “borrowing” the surplus with no plan to repay it and now we have to deal with the consequences.

    Unless the current commission working on the problem demands that any and all surplus funds be placed off limits to politicians, there will be no effective solution. Keep the surplus money in a “lock box” where it belongs. And demand that the government make yearly contributions until the bonds have been repaid. There is no need to increase the retirement age or raise payroll taxes or reduce benefits. Stop lending the excess to fund other programs.

    ###
    Jim Fitzgerald

    Jim Fitzgerald

    A clinically trained psychologist, Jim had a private practice in Cobb County for almost 30 years. For the last ten years he has been a Professor of Psychology at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT, but lives in the North Georgia Mountains.

     

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    • Jim McDaniel

      That all sounds correct to me as I understand it. The question tho, is if the excess is not lent to the Government, where will it be invested? My investments in the market the last few years have not been very positive. It may be that the buildup when the markets were good would still provide a higher total fund today.

    • http://tompoland.net Tom Poland

      I am by no means astute when it comes to politics and government but I believe it is time to cease all foreign aid. While we don’t spend as much in foreign aid as most think what we spend could be better used here. When all citizens can go to bed at night with food in their stomach, have decent clothing, a nice place to live appropriate to their income/resources,and when older folks are not desperate for food or healthcare, only then should the taxpayers of this country give one red cent to any other country. I suspect some of our foreign aid falls into the hands of our enemies and is used against us. So what happens if we stop all foreign aid? Will the world fall out of orbit or will folks in other countries become more resourceful?

    • Monica Smith

      As I see it, there are three alternatives:

      The Treasury prints money to pay for public functions that have been approved and authorized and that currency then circulates through the economy as the initial recipients use it to pay for obligations they have incurred but can’t reciprocate directly.

      or

      The Treasury prints money and hands it to the Federal Reserve to hand out to other financial institutions, which dole it out, in turn, to “qualified” borrowers, including various public corporations (federal, state and local governments) for a fee.

      or

      The Treasury prints money for the Federal Reserve and persuades some people to return some of the money they accept in payment for obligations, without collecting a fee, in the expectation that they’ll get it back when they need it. In a sense, the money accumulated in the Social Security Trust Fund is an interest-free loan from the American people to their government, by-passing the financial middlemen.

      It makes sense that the financial middlemen are not pleased about not getting their “cut” of the Social Security taxes contributed to the Trust Fund and lent to the General Fund, at a lower rate of interest than they demand in dividends from bonds. Providing “financial services” to public corporations is a gravy train like no other. Any money lent is certain to be repaid. The interest on the loan is not taxed as income. And the lender gets to have a say in how the money is spent. What could be sweeter? Talk about power without responsibility!

      What the opponents of “tax and spend” are really after is “borrow and spend.” They are shilling for the lenders. But, that wouldn’t be politic to announce. So, they remain mute about their preferred alternative to being taxed.

      If you don’t believe me, just Google and see how many bond issues are being touted all across the land. And then ask yourself what funding sources are being replaced by federal stimulus grants. “Tax and spend” is a two-way street. “Bonded debt” is a detour-laden route across the land and at every intersection there’s a financier with an outstretched hand.

      Stephens Inc., btw, whose principals staked the Bushes, Clinton, Clark, Huckabee, Romney and Blanche Lincoln are bond brokers. Before the latest crash, they were busy trying to convince states and authorities to bond already built capital assets (instead of new construction) in order to cover the short-falls in tax collections and fee revenues. From the perspective of the country club class, the preferred alternative to taxes is bonded debt — i.e. legalized theft. What makes it theft? The deprived get nothing in exchange for what they give up.

    • Monica Smith

      On second thought, responding to a neighbor who asks: “Are they crazy in Washington?”

      Just keep repeating to yourself, “The alternative to debt is theft.”
      Besides, a debt is a recognition of an obligation and conservatives are
      all about rejecting obligations, especially social ones. When an
      obligation isn’t met, then it turns a loan into a theft, after the fact.
      Theft, under cover of law, is still theft. What conservatives want is
      legalized theft; just as, in the good old days, they had legalized slavery.
      There’s a new wrinkle which argues that if you can talk someone into
      giving up what they have, it’s not theft. Actually, it’s not new; it’s
      the line muggers rely on.

      The muggers in Washington are looking to legalize theft. Others just get
      a kick out of agitating the aged.

      M/H

    • Francois Lipton

      Wow, again… just plain-old, blithering insanity: “When an obligation isn’t met, then it turns a loan into a theft, after the fact.” I mean … errr … whaaaa???

      When an obligation isn’t met — it’s a default. You default when you are insolvent. When will ever occur to the progressive liberal mind that the key measure of effectiveness is solvency? No business or individual can go along digging themselves into a fiscal hole without serious consequences. That is, bankruptcy. Medicare and Social Security de facto insolvent yet sputter along dragging the country further into debt because folks like the professor love whistling past the fiscal graveyard. I’m all for paying for obligations to the elderly — but they must come at the expense of something else.

      But you guys just keep begging the government for more free stuff. That’s always the answer to your problem. When will you realize they are incapable of delivering you from your endless misery? I mean it’s really outrageous. For damn near 100 years you’ve been begging this same government to heal your pain. The same government that has grown from 3 percent of GDP to more than 50 percent while GDP itself has grown a 100 times or so — and you’re still complaining about the same damn crap you did when the FDR promise train got rolling in 1933.

    • Billy Howard

      No free stuff. If you recall during the last democratic presidency there was a surplus….oops, you guys blew that! Perhaps not spending so much on needless wars and militarism, having a balanced tax system where corporations and the highest percentage earners pay their fair share and then we could properly fund needed social services. Needed, that is, unless you want to live in a third world country. Nobody is begging for free stuff so please, read and reflect on what is actually being said before you make stuff up.

      • Del Olds

        How much is the “fair share” of the top wage earners? Since the top 10% pay 73% of the income tax collected by the IRS and the bottom 40% pay no tax but “earn” more in tax credits than they owe in taxes and the IRS is sending them a check. Just saying and asking.

    • Francois Lipton

      Again: 47 percent of citizens pay no taxes. The top 10 percent pay more than half of all taxes. Bill Clinton succeeded in growing the economy because he saw his economic agenda explode when the Republicans took over the House in 1994. Bill Clinton became the greatest welfare slasher, free-trader president we ever had. He deserves much credit for the growth, but being a brilliant politician, he took Republican conservative economic principles and made them his own. Good on Bill. If he ran on those same principles he’d be laughed out of the Democrat party today.

      You think we’re going to have another Clintonian era with Barack Hussein Obama and Socialosi — ha! They’re an economic trainwreck. They’re so absurdly incompetent they make George W. Bush look like King Solomon. Obama played more golf in the first 12 months than W played in eight years. He’s thrown more parties and beer summits than any of presidents combined from Carter to W. He indulges his cult of personality and no world leader respects him. The Saudis give him gaudy bling-bling, the Chinese run him around like a prized pet and his apology tours have paid zero dividends in terms of international respect and prestige. And, of course, he’s tripled W’s budget deficits. Obama is a disaster.

    • Billy Howard

      Twenty percent of the American people own 85% of the wealth in this country, leaving 15%, or, what’s left over, for the other 80%. And that is AFTER taxes, so I’m not sure that I’m feeling really sorry for the poor struggling people at the top. And the top 1% in the country hold almost 43% of the wealth. Obama came in with the economy headed toward purgatory and pulled us back. Obama averted disaster.

      • Francois Lipton

        Barack Hussein Obama pulled us back? Unemployment is increasing. Wealth is shrinking. Deficits are increasing. If you mean he pulled us back from economic purgatory and into financial hell — I agree. I like how you insist that your emotional satisfaction is a necessary condition for the allocation of capital. When you and your partisans “feel good” about confiscating private property — then society will finally function as it should. No wonder you support Mao-bama.

        • http://www.billyhoward.com Billy Howard

          No one is for confiscating private property, alas, it is the right who insist on confiscating the rightfully earned profits of workers to fund their extravagance. HELLO!

          • Francois Lipton

            Profits from workers? The progressive liberal’s endless confusion about elementary economic principles explain their endless supply of confusing and bad ideas. Profits are returns from invested capital. Capital is a fixed cost. Workers earn wages represented by the marginal product of their labor equaling the marginal costs of production. Hence labor is a variable cost. Workers earn wages, not profits. HELLO!

            • http://www.billyhoward.com Billy Howard

              The labor or workers, undervalued in the current system, creates the value that allows companies their profits which the people at the top plunder by taking an obscene percentage….I’m sure in your view it is ok that executives now make several hundred times the amount workers do, when a short time ago it was 20 to 40 times. As people in the middle and bottom see that the entire system is gamed for the people at the top, it will drive incentive down which is not good for capitalism. I would not call Paul Krugman, a man I’m sure you prefer not to listen too because he’s smarter than both of us, confused on elementary economic principles.

    • http://jwwebwork.com Jan Watson

      Never let Francois/Bob have the last word!

      • http://www.billyhoward.com Billy Howard

        The last word is always the truth which Francois/Bob is not interested in, therefore, he never gets the last word. He is only interested in spinning facts, subverting context and defending failed ideas. The truth is a scary concept to Francois/Bob, starting with his very name(s)! He is unwilling, or afraid to directly confront the issues on any level other than bluster and attack. Thoughtful reflection is not an option and truth can often be found in thoughtful reflection. I worry for Francois/Bob because he lives in a world that has no empathy and joy, or at least, so it seems from his responses. There is no way to really know what he thinks or who he is because he hides behind a mask.

    • Del Olds

      Talent in business is rewarded the same as talent in the sports and entertainment industry. Money goes to the top “players”. Shouldn’t the same rules apply to those “industries”? Just asking?

    • Del Olds

      Opps, my above comment was a reply to Billy’s reply to Francois about the wage disparity between the higher and lower paid workers and not to the article as a whole.

    • http://www.billyhoward.com Billy Howard

      I think you’re misinterpreting what I am saying. I do believe the top talent deserves the top money. But in too many companies, the people at the top, through lobbying and hand picked boards, have increased their salaries out of all proportion to what they deserve, taking money out of the system that should have been used to elevate the workers along with them. That is why middle class incomes have stagnated while upper incomes have skyrocketed. I believe in being compensated for the job you do, but the top earners have gamed the system to compensate themselves higher at the expense of everybody else. Sports and entertainment are different, and if you want to use the analogy, in corporate America the managers are taking all of the money and the players are playing for the same salaries they made twenty years ago. Add in inflation and that’s the score.

      • Del Olds

        Just asking, then the answer is “No”.

    • http://www.billyhoward.com Billy Howard

      The answer, if you were reading, is yes. But, just like the top players, cheating isn’t allowed, and that is what has happened. Do you believe that the people at the top should game the system to gain more compensation than they deserve? Apparently the answer is “Yes.”

      • Del Olds

        “have increased their salaries out of all proportion to what they deserve”…Who determines their deserved salary, the government or the market? Should they get what they can negotiate, just like a ball player or entertainment star. Shouldn’t they get what the market for their talent will pay? or what their Union can negotiate. -- ( BTW -- Look at what union leaders make vs. the workers in the union).

        “I believe in being compensated for the job you do, but the top earners have gamed the system to compensate themselves higher at the expense of everybody else.” So if someone “gamed” the system to get a nice salary, then they have gotten compensated at the expense of someone else. If they got what they negotiated, then how is that different from signing a ballplayer or movie star and they turned out to be a “bust”, but they still get paid.

        If a crime was committed they should be criminally charged, and fined or put in jail. It is not a crime, (yet), to negotiate a big salary or to accept a big salary if offered.

        The disparity in wages is what the market will pay for talent whether in business or entertainment or union leaders.

        So the answer is “yes”.

        • http://www.billyhoward.com Billy Howard

          and they negotiate those salaries with boards they hand pick. Board members who make a great deal of money off being on those boards and therefore are inclined to pay the outrageous salaries. As for “what the market will bear,” did you notice the market almost destroyed our entire economy? To imply that the market is some abstract engine is ludicrous and to assume the people at the top aren’t gaming it is naive.

          • Del Olds

            I disagree. Looks like we fundamentally disagree. 8-( Not sure we could find common ground on this.

            • http://www.billyhoward.com Billy Howard

              I think we just agreed on something.

            • Del Olds

              And that is a good thing! LOL BTW, I do like your writing (though I do disagree with SOME of your thoughts). We can agree on that too, so we now have two things we have agreement

            • http://www.billyhoward.com Billy Howard

              Regardless of disagreements, one of the things a site like this has the potential to do is open meaningful dialog between viewpoints. Unfortunately, most of that dialog has been too strident. If both sides would be willing to let down defenses and actually have a conversation maybe everyone could walk away with a little understanding. Thanks for helping to move in that direction.

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    Remembering Carl Sanders, who brought Georgia out of Dark Ages

    By: Elliott Brack

    It was a relatively young (37 year old) senator from Augusta with modern ideas who brought Georgia out from under the influences of the Talmadge machine, when he became governor in 1963. Carl Sanders brought modern politics to the state, moved the state to new heights and set the tone for forwardness and moderation that, indeed, made Georgia the capitol of the New South. He ran against a key Talmadge protégé, and former governor, Marvin Griffin, a staunch segregationist. We remember it well. We were in our third week as publisher of the Wayne County Press in Jesup, when we endorsed h  Read on →