It Ain’t Broke-Don’t ‘Fix’ It
n the Texas legislature, they are called “prior-roarities,” such a happy coinage. What should come prior? When the pitter-patter of falling year-end columns comes again, not necessarily next year, but certainly four years from now, I fearlessly forecast a dismal unanimity: that the Bush Administration II suffers from bad and dumb prior-roarities. Actually, the passage of time is not required for proof—look around. The Bushies are about to launch a $50 million to $100 million propaganda campaign to convince us the Social Security system is in crisis. Actually, it’s not. It’s quite robust and has astonishingly low administrative costs, less than 1 percent. According to President Bush’s own Commission to “Strengthen Social Security,” the administrative costs of keeping track of private accounts will be 10 to 30 times the cost of administering the current system. The Social Security System is in no danger whatsoever of going broke or even of having to pay out less than full compensation for at least 50 years. There are any number of statistical models and premises one can argue about here, but when the administration begins with a premise that requires fixing Social Security based on an extrapolation to infinity, you know you are not dealing with people who argue in good faith. Even if Social Security were in full-fledged crisis, none of the sensible, cheap, effective ways to fix it would involve the massive trillion-dollar boondoggle this administration contemplates. Let’s get this straight. The Republicans do NOT want to fix Social Security, they want to kill it. Period. They don’t want to “partially privatize” it, they want to end it. They want a private pension system like the one their pointy-headed heroes at the University of Chicago dreamed up for Chile, the poster child of why we should not do this. This same rigid, inflexible, impractical the-market-is-always-best ideology is like a form of mania with these folks. As Paul Krugman patiently points out, “Claims that stocks will always yield high, low-risk returns are just bad economics.” In fact, it’s more than passingly reminiscent of another rigid, inflexible, politico-economic orthodoxy: communism. And just as capable of robustly ignoring reality. And for robustly ignoring reality, you can’t hardly beat spending $50 million to $100 million on a propaganda campaign to convince America there’s something seriously wrong with Social Security while you ignore the collapse of the American health care system. It is common to begin all discussions of American health care with a complete lie, uttered in this example by President Bush: “We live in a great country that has got the best health care system in the world, and we need to keep it that way.” The peerless investigative team of Donald Barlett and James Steele reports in their new book, Critical Condition: How Health Care in America Became Big Business—and Bad Medicine, one of our most enduring myths is that we have “world class health care.” (See “How We Got to be 37th, January 7). “To be sure, it does offer the very best of care to some folks,” they write. “It does offer world-class high-tech surgery and some space-age medical procedures. But these benefit 2 or 3 percent of the population at most, along with the richest citizens of other countries who come here for the highly specialized treatment…. Many countries around the world take far better care of their people, achieve better results for their health care system and do it all with far fewer dollars….The statistics are even grimmer when life span is counted in years of healthy living.” Now, that’s a problem. So is global warming. So is dependence on foreign oil. Social Security is not a problem. We are, however, about to be swamped by an election-style campaign to convince us it is. According to The Washington Post: “Several GOP groups close to the White House are asking the same donors who helped re-elect Bush to fund an extensive campaign to convince Americans—and skeptical lawmakers—that Social Security is in crisis and that private accounts are the only cure. “Progress for America, an independent group that backed Bush, has set aside about $9 million to support the president’s Social Security plan…. The group is asking its donors for more. “Stephen Moore, head of the Club for Growth, has raised $1.5 million, and hopes to reach a $15 million target…. Those contributions are likely to be dwarfed by those from corporate trade associations, spearheaded by the National Association of Manufacturers. Other likely contributors include the financial services and securities industries….” Prior-roarities. Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist. Her latest book with Lou Dubose is Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America (Random House).