Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Intentionally or not, the Times reporting backs up Greenspans's non-reality based views

Alan Greenspan wants to assure us that social security can be "fixed" by raising the retirement age:

"Policies promoting longer working life could ameliorate some of the potential demographic stresses," Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, told a conference of economists and policy makers in Jackson Hole, Wyo., last year. "Early initiatives to address the economic effects of baby-boom retirements could smooth the transition to a new balance between workers and retirees."

It must be easy for Greenspan to weigh in on such a concept, he's sat on his cushy ass for how long now? He's had no accountability for how long now?

It's not like he's had to be a Wal-Mart worker or someone flipping burgers. It's not as though failure on his job has resulted in him being balled out or fired. No, he's been a fixture sucking up tax payer money for more years than most can remember.

And maybe we can't all remember his recommendations that led to the Social Security Reform Act of 1983? Wasn't that supposed to have "fixed" a problem -- raising payroll taxes? Let's be clear, that didn't mean raising the cut off so that everyone, EVERYONE, continued paying in (as opposed to reaching 80,000 a year, that's the figure Randi Rhodes has been using, and then no longer having monies taken out of your wages for FICA).

So now Alan Greenspan, the guy who's been feeding at the public trough for decades in jobs that come with no accountability wants to discuss raising . . . retirement age.

It's never anything to do with a tax break, it's never raise the set amount at which you stop paying into the fund, it's always somehow screw over the worker who's struggling to make ends meet.

If you're Alan Greenspan and haven't been accountable to anyone in years, lifetime employment may be good for you (though increasingly, Greenspan's lifetime employment has not proven good for the country). But not everyone's been given his cushy perch and allowed to stay there whether they could perform in the job or not.

Eduardo Porter and May Williams Walsh's front page story in this morning's New York Times
("Retirement Turns Into a Rest Stop as Benefits Dwindle") features a snapshot of people who attempted early retirement from high paying jobs with good pensions only to see corporations cut back in pensions and health coverage which resulted in them having to return to the work force in lower paying jobs.

I'm sorry for those people. I'm sure it's been humilitating for them. But I'm thinking of a 68 year-old woman I know who wouldn't be mentioned in this story. She's worked all her life in a variety of jobs (FBI, large institutions) and she's still working. And there's no hope of retirement for her because of the bills she faces for health care (her own and her late husband's).

I think Porter and Williams Walsh are addressing a serious subject, but I think they're focused on a very narrow range of people -- better off people who retired early only to find out they weren't so better off.

There's a whole range of people who never pulled down 70K. Though Greenspan can ignore them, it's sad that the New York Times chooses to do so.

It's the juxtaposition of Greenspan's quote with these stories that bothers me. Greenspan's spinning his usual I've-been-out-of-the-real-world-so-long-I-have-no-idea-what-really-goes-on crap and when the face of the retired is presented as people who've elected to retire early (in their fifties) there may not be a great deal of sympathy for the people portrayed in the paper.
(I do sympathize with them.) But those people aren't representative of most of the elderly who didn't have the option of retiring early, who haven't pulled down 70K or more a year.

Greenspan, Ayn Rand devotee who learned many a spin point in her parlor, has long confused a screw-you attitude with self-sufficiency. That anyone who's so long relied on the tax payer to overpay him repeatedly (with no accountability for his actions or lack of them -- bubble burst planning, where was it?) wants to preach the country about self-sufficiency is down right laughable.

The juxtaposition of Greenspan may be the reporters attempt to round out a story (with that apparently always necessary "official statement"). If so, it's a mistake because the reporters for the Times still haven't put a human face on the story (as Rebecca noted last week). They've chosen people from a higher level than the average to contrast with Greenspan statements and that's a mistake because it confuses reality. (Something we've long learned to expect from Greenspan and perhaps it's time to expect it from the Times as well?)

When Greenspan comes into "fix" something he's labeled as a "problem," the ones who suffer are always the low income worker. If we need to do some fine tuning, we can start by repealing the Bully Boy's tax cuts (which Paul Krugman has noted repeatedly would immediately fine tune any bumps in the road). We can consider ending the cap on FICA contributions once you make 80,000 dollars year (again, that's the figure Randi Rhodes has been using).

But Greenspan wants to raise the age of retirement and the Times, knowingly or unkowningly, helps the dottering and increasingly useless Greenspan make his case by electing to focus on early retirees from an income bracket that won't be likely to garner a great deal of sympathy from many readers. It's past time that the Times went and found the average retiree.

They're not jetting around to various resorts. They aren't going to be found spending their days tinkering. They're the ones for whom the safety net was created and they're the ones who are already falling through the cracks. At a time when we're discussing social security and possible changes, the paper needs to be conveying reality and today it didn't. Today it played into the stereotype of the idle retirees. (Granted, some people will identify with those in today's paper; however, these are not your typical elderly.)

Rebecca's addressed the issue far better than I could, which doesn't really surprise me; however, that she's done so better than the reporting in the Times continues to does suprise me. ("Reporting" -- editorials and op-eds are excluded from "reporting" by me.)

[Note: This post has been edited for clarity -- thank you, Shirley for e-mailing where two sentences were confusing.]