Why the Democrats won’t Privatize Social Security

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 24th, 2013

Politics 101

FDR Transformed the Country because he had a Great Crisis to Exploit like the Great Depression

Once upon a time in a place that seems far, far away there was once a people that saved for retirement.  The savings rate was so high in this mystical land that businesses were able to borrow money at low interest rates to expand their business.  And there was great employment.  Then came an evil ogre who hated savings.  And responsible behavior.  He saw money saved as money leaked out of the economy.  Hurting economic activity.  His motto was spend don’t save.  And don’t worry about how you will take care of yourself in retirement.  So this evil ogre set out to destroy savings and responsible behavior.

That evil ogre’s name was John Maynard Keynes.  Who empowered governments with his inflationary monetary policies.  Allowing governments to spend a lot of money.  Giving them a lot of power.  By getting as many people dependent on the government as possible.  Keynes met with Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  To offer him ideas of how to spend his way out of the Great Depression.  FDR didn’t think much of Keynesian economics.  For he did try to maintain the gold standard.  But he loved spending money.  And getting people dependent on the government.

FDR gave us Big Government.  He did the things Woodrow Wilson wanted to do.  But Wilson couldn’t because he didn’t have a crisis like the Great Depression to exploit.  FDR did.  And he was able to transform the country because of it.  People saved less.  And government spent more.  Which led to deficit spending, massive debt and inflation.  And perhaps the cruelest thing he did was impoverish the retiring class.  By taking their wealth through taxes and inflation.  And making them dependent on a meager Social Security benefit.

Social Security Contributions would create a Bigger Nest Egg if Invested in the Private Sector

After seeing so many poor, hungry, homeless, etc., during the Great Depression government did something.  They punished those who saved responsibly for their retirement.  By redistributing their wealth to those who didn’t.  It seemed fair and just and kind.  And there was an element of that in providing a social safety net for our most vulnerable people.  But that wasn’t the intent of Social Security.  FDR wanted to transform the country.  Which he did.  And today they forecast Social Security will go bankrupt in the coming years.  Requiring ever more wealth redistribution.  All while making Social Security recipients live a more impoverished retirement than they would have.  Had they saved for their own retirement.  A true transformation of the richest country in the world.

So let’s look at the numbers.  Your Social Security contributions are technically saved in a ‘retirement account’ that accrues interest.  Each payroll period both employer and employee contribute to this ‘retirement account’.  Via a tax rate on a person’s gross pay up to a maximum amount (see Historical Payroll Tax Rates).  So let’s see what this would have done in the private sector.  Year by year.  With the following assumptions.  The worker enters the workforce at 18 and works until retiring at age 65.  The worker earns the maximum amount for Social Security taxes.  So all of his or her earnings are subject to the Social Security tax.  With each successive year we add the current contribution to the running balance in his or her retirement account.  The annual balance earns interest at 6% (including anywhere from 2-4% real return on their retirement investment and the rest of that 6% accounts for inflation).  The following chart shows the beginning 5 years and the final 5 years.

Here we can see the power of compound interest.  As we earn interest on both our contributions and the previous interest we earned.  Note that the total contributions for 48 years of work total $282,608.38.  Which earned a total of $540,413.12 in interest.  Bringing the retirement nest egg up to $823,021.50.  Again, this is assuming that the Social Security contributions were actually private retirement savings.  That thing John Maynard Keynes hated.  So this is what a retiree would have to live on in retirement.  Had his or her money not gone to the government.

The Purpose of Social Security was to make People Dependent on Government and Redistribute Wealth

Now let’s look at what kind of retirement that nest egg will provide.  Starting with some more assumptions.  Let’s say the retiree lives 35 years in retirement.  Reaching a grand old age of 100.  Not your typical retirement.  But one this retirement nest egg can provide.  For someone with fairly modest means.  Each year the retiree lives on $53,553.  At the end of the year they earn interest on their remaining balance.  Which helps to stretch that $823,021.50 over those 35 years.  The following chart shows the beginning 5 years and the final 5 years of that retirement.

Note how that $282,608.38 in retirement contributions can provide $1,874,355 in retirement payments.  Again, that’s the miracle of compound interest.  So what kind of retirement would Social Security have provided?  Someone who retires after working till age 65 who was earning $110,100 near retirement will receive approximately $24,720 annually in retirement.  Over 35 years of retirement that comes to $865,200 in retirement benefits.  Which is $1,009,155 less than someone would get investing in a private sector retirement plan.  Or a reduction of 53.8%.  Which is what people lose when letting the government provide for their retirement.  So Social Security is a very poor retirement plan.  Besides going bankrupt.  Which is why the Republicans want to give younger workers the option to opt out of Social Security and provide for their own retirement.  Which makes sense.  And would probably increase their quality of life in retirement.  As shown above.  So why are the Democrats so opposed to privatization of Social Security?

Because the purpose of Social Security was not to provide a quality retirement.  It was to make people dependent on government.  To redistribute wealth.  Increasing the power of government.  And for those things Social Security is a resounding success.  But there is one other thing why Democrats oppose privatizing Social Security.  What would happen if the person that built up that $823,021.50 nest egg died 5 years into retirement?  Who would get the remaining $781,392.18?  The retiree’s family.  Whereas if a Social Security beneficiary dies 5 years into retirement the government keeps their money.  To spend as they please.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #78: “It’s a dishonest politician that sneaks sneaky legislation into a bill.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 9th, 2011

The Devil is in the Details and the Sneakiness is in the Fine Print

You know what they say.  Buyer beware.  Because they’re out to get you with their sneaky advertising.  Which you need to read closely.  Because the devil is in the details.  And the sneakiness is in the fine print.  That print that no one reads.  Like credit cards that send you those checks. 

They may offer 0% interest for six months when you write yourself a check for $5,000.  Wow.  Sounds great.  But if you don’t pay that off in that 6 month period look out.  Through the miracle of compound interest, that $5,000 debt will grow.  And that growing starts the moment you cash that check.  Because in the fine print the credit card company notes that after the 6-month period they will begin charging interest at 27.24% APR.  Starting on day one of the 6-month period.

People may wonder how credit cards can make any money if they don’t charge interest.  Well that’s the secret of the zero-interest offers.  They don’t expect you to pay it off within in that 6-month period.  And the second that 6-month period ends they book $720.84 of interest income on that $5,000 they loaned you.  That’s a short-term loan that yields 14.42%.  And there ain’t any 6-month investment out there that can match this yield.  But it doesn’t end there.  The yields on the credit card loan will continue to grow.  If you owe that $5,000 for 1 year, that yield rises to 30.91%.  And instead of owing $5,000 you now owe $6,545.59.

A zero-interest offer seems to be good to be true.  That’s because they are too good to be true.  Which you’ll see when you read the fine print.  If you read the fine print.

You have to be Sneaky to get People to Agree to Things that will Hurt Them in the Long Run

Now it’s obvious why they do this.  Be sneaky.  Because they can make a lot of money by doing this.  And the more people that take them up on these zero-interest offers the more money they can make.  So they put the things that would sour most people on using these checks in the fine print.   In hopes few will read it.  And few do.

You see, you have to be sneaky to get people to agree to things that will hurt them in the long run.  You just can’t be honest.  They can’t tell you that this loan will cost you nothing at 11:59 PM on the last day of the 6-month period.  And that it will cost you $720.84 one minute later.  Worse, your minimum monthly payment will jump about $125 as they calculate this loan into your payment.  And compound interest will make that credit card balance swell like a beached whale to the point that you’ll never be able to pay it off. 

You’ll lose sleep as your minimum monthly payments grow.  You’ll struggle to get that balance to go down.  Of course it never will.  And the more those minimum payments grow the less money you have for groceries and gas.  So then you’ll start paying less than the minimum due so you can put food on the table and drive to work.  Then the collection calls start.  It’ll get to the point that your stomach turns every time you hear the phone ring.

So you can see why they put this kind of stuff into the fine print.  I mean, if they advertise that they are going to ruin your life, are you going to use one of those checks?  Probably not.

The Founding Fathers hated Democracy with a Passion

So you really have to be sneaky and devious to get people to voluntarily destroy their lives.  And speaking of politics, politicians are the worst.  For a credit card company may try to get as much money from you as possible.  But that’s just business.  And they don’t swear oaths to protect you.

Thomas Jefferson hated bankers and merchants.  Partly because he was forever in debt.  But mostly because they can buy themselves favors.  And the seller of favors is, of course, government.  Jefferson was a well read man.  He knew history.  And he saw how combining money and government led to bad things.  Corruption.  Patronage.  Privilege.  War.  Money gave government power to do its worse.  And allowed a ruling minority to oppress the people for personal gain.  Now even though America was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, Jefferson knew that money could, and would, change that.  This is one of the reasons why the nation’s capital was located on a swamp a long, long way from the nation’s financial center.  New York.

This is also a reason why the nation is a republic.  And not a democracy.  We have representative government.  Not direct participation.  For the Founding Fathers hated democracy with a passion.  Why?  Because all democracies fail.  Once the people learn they can vote themselves whatever they want.  That’s why the Founding Fathers put enlightened/educated representatives between the treasury and the people.  Who will be rational and logical.  And not give in to base desires.

But the Founding Fathers were a special breed.  Who came along at just the right time and place.  And they created something perfect as far as governments go.  But as they passed from memory, the ways of the Old World became hard to resist. 

You have to let Others Steal from the Treasury if You want to Steal from the Treasury

As the nation grew so did its tax base.  More people meant more tax revenue.  First through import tariffs.  Then the income tax.  And other various taxes.  A little bit of tax from a huge population meant a lot of money for politicians to play with.  And play they did.  With the power to control these vast sums of money, they played God.  Just as Jefferson warned.  Money and government created a ruling minority.  Or a Ruling Class.  Much like the Founding Fathers fought so long and hard to end in the New World.

Of course, people won’t willingly support a Ruling Class that oppresses them.  So they have to be sneaky.  And hide much of what they do from the general public.  By burying it deep in pages of legislation.  Pork barrel spending we call it.  To get a part of the population to support you by promising them free stuff.  Then you honor that pledge by attaching a rider to a bill to house and feed orphans, for example.  When the final bill gets passed into law not only do we house and feed orphans (which everyone supports), but we also shower select constituencies with federal dollars for their help in getting out the vote during the last election (which only those select constituencies support).

Of course you know how this plays out.  If you oppose the excess spending in this bill you hate orphans.  And who wants to be labeled an orphan hater?  Probably not many.  But chances are few will oppose it.  Because to get pork you have to give pork.  You have to let others steal from the treasury if you want to steal from the treasury.  And this is why representatives and senators vote to pass thousand page bills without reading them.  They know they’re full of shameless pork barrel spending.   But as long as they include their pork they don’t care.

Short-Term Gratification with Long-Term Consequences

Politicians are a lot like those credit card companies.  Promising great short-term gratification.  With long-term consequences that will be a bitch.  They both want our money.  The credit card companies want us to go on a spending orgy so they can book fat profits on the interest they charge us.  Politicians just want to go on a spending orgy with our money.

So who’s worse?  The politicians, of course.  They’re supposed to be looking out for us.  Besides, when the credit card companies are screwing us, at least we get to enjoy the ride before the crash.  Taxpayers don’t.  Because their money typically goes to people who don’t pay income taxes.  So they don’t get to enjoy the ride.  They just suffer the crash.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #51: “The longer you wait to balance your books the harder it will be to balance them.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 1st, 2011

Compound Interest and ‘Usury’ Rates Keep Credit Card Balances High

You ever get those checks from your credit card companies?  Write yourself a check at 0% interest for 6 months?  And then in the fine print they note that if you don’t repay the money within that 6 month period you will be charged interest from the day you cashed that check at something like 30% APR.  Compounded monthly.  So if you write yourself a $5,000 check and pay it back the day after that 6 month period ends, you’ll find that you’ll have to pay back close to $15,000 for that $5,000 loan.  That’s the miracle of compound interest.  Working against you.

So, in 6 months time, it will be much harder to balance your books than it would have been before you borrowed that money.  This is the worst thing about credit card debt.  High interest charges that are rolled into your outstanding principal.  This makes the outstanding balance grow faster than a lot of people can pay them off.  Car and house payments, on the other hand, have fixed balances and lower interest rates.  We usually can pay those off.

People will say that credit card companies are charging usury interest rates.  They think that we should have laws to force them to lower their interest rates.  If car and house loans can be under 10%, why can credit cards charge interest rates as high as 30%?  Well, in a word, collateral.  If you fail to pay your house or car payments, the bank will take your house or car.  They will then sell them to try and get their money back.  Credit card debt is unsecured.  It’s pretty hard to take back restaurant dinners and hotel stays and sell them to get your money back.  So when people default, the credit card companies get nothing.  So they have to charge higher interest rates to cover these losses.

Living beyond our Means Despite our Parents’ Wise Advice

So using credit cards to make up for a spending deficit is not a good thing.  Granted, there are emergencies where some have no choice.  But a lot of us just seem to spend more than we earn.  Or take bigger debt risks.  We may like the bigger house better than the more affordable one.  We may like a new car better than a good used one.  Of course, those things come with bigger monthly payments.  And we may have no problem paying for these things.  Unless a spouse loses their overtime.  Or their job.  Or the ARM on your mortgage resets to a higher interest rate.  All of a sudden, then, those monthly payments begin to hurt.

But not everyone gets into trouble because of a change in income or interest rates.  For some it just happens.  Gradually.  Money’s good.  You take some vacations.  Eat out a few times.  Buy some nice things for the house.  A home theater.  A nice patio with a twin BBQ and some nice furniture.  Next thing you know you’re living beyond your means.  You notice that your credit card balances are growing larger.  And your monthly payments are growing smaller.  Which in turn makers your balances grow larger.  All of a sudden, you have trouble paying your bills.  And you can’t understand this because you were making such good money.

Parents are often critical of their children’s spending.  Go back some 20-30 years and they were very critical.  Those parents who grew up during the Great Depression and went without during World War II know the value of not buying anything until you saved the money for the purchase.  A lot of kids got tired of hearing this.  “You shouldn’t be spending your money on that.  You should be saving it.”  But a lot of us wouldn’t listen.  Because we wanted things and we didn’t want to wait.  So we bought them. Spent our money.  Ran up our credit cards.  Got ourselves into trouble.  And went back to Mom and Dad for help.  Why?  Because they saved their money.  Lived well within their means.  Were able to retire comfortably.  And can now afford to help bail you out of your troubles.

Rising Immigration and Birth Rates Encourages Entitlement Spending

What’s true for people is true for governments.  Earlier governments knew the value of not spending money they didn’t have.  Thomas Jefferson slashed the federal budget when he became president.  He feared that a perpetual federal debt only empowered a federal government.  If the debt became permanent, then so must the government.  Alexander Hamilton liked debt for that very reason.  Not Jefferson.  Hamilton wanted to create an American Empire to give the British Empire a run for her money.  Jefferson just wanted people to own and farm land.

So in the beginning, and through the middle, Washington operated on a shoestring budget.  Kept its spending manageable.  And it’s debt minimal.  Lincoln exploded spending to pay for the Civil War.  And subsequent presidents did likewise for the two world wars.  But things really started to change in the 20th Century.  First with Wilson’s Progressives.  Then FDR’s New Deal.  Then Johnson’s Great Society.  Federal spending grew at an alarming rate.  Because America came into her own in the later 19th/early 20th century.  We became a rich nation.  A world leader.  And there was a lot of other people’s money to spend.

Thus the era of entitlement spending had begun.  Immigration was swelling the U.S. population.  We were having lots of kids.  All of us were working hard.  And paying our taxes.  America was like that 2-income couple working lots of overtime and buying lots of things.  The good times looked like they would just go on forever.  So America was ‘buying’ Social Security for everyone.  And Medicare.  Medicaid.  And lots of other stuff.  But then a strange thing happened.  Our population stopped growing.  We closed Ellis Island.  Immigration was down.  Birthrates plummeted.  Neighborhood families didn’t have 10 and 12 kids in their houses.  A Baby Bust followed the Baby Boom.  Or, more accurately, a taxpayer bust.  For the aging population was growing at a greater rate than the taxpaying population.  Which meant fewer and fewer people were paying for more and more people collecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Unfixable?

And this is a problem.  And the problem grows greater with every day that goes by.  Because with every day that goes by, more seniors start collecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.  While fewer new people enter the work force to pay for these programs.  And despite raising taxes and cutting benefits, costs continue to exceed revenue.  So the government takes out its ‘credit card’ to finance this deficit.

Of course, we call these programs ‘third rail’ programs.  That is, if a politician threatens to cut any of these programs they can kiss reelection goodbye.  So they don’t.  They just kick the can down the road.  And the problem grows ever more costly to fix.  Both monetarily.  And politically.  Which makes them just want to keep kicking that can down the road to let someone else worry about them.

But like our credit cards, we keep running up our outstanding debt.  The debt is so high now that the interest on the debt is a major budget item.  We have to fix this problem.  We can’t keep kicking it down the road.  Greece tried.  And look what happened to them.  The European Central Bank (ECB) had to bail them out.  And Greece is still not out of the woods.  Now Greece is a great nation.  A lot of history there.  But it’s not quite as big as the United States.  Being small has its advantages, though.  It’s easier for others to bail you out.  We don’t have that luxury.  There isn’t anyone big enough to bail us out.  Except, perhaps, an old enemy.  Communist China.  Imagine that.  One of the last communist nations in the world having to come to the rescue of the most powerful (and once most capitalistic) nation in the world.  If that ain’t a fine how do you do.

We should have listened to our Founding Fathers.  Because our parents always knew best.  Pity we don’t learn that until after we make a mess of things. 

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #26: “If we need Big Government to protect us from ourselves, then our public schools can’t be the best place to learn.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 10th, 2010

IT’S A PARADOX.  You can’t have both.  Great public schools.  And a Big Government nanny state.  The public schools can’t be the best place to learn if we graduate hopelessly incapable of taking care of ourselves.  You cannot reconcile the two.  It is impossible.  The need of Big Government is an indictment on public education.  It sucks.  It sucks so bad that our only hope to survive is by a dependence on government.

The Founding Fathers did NOT want a Big Government nanny state.  So they tried to limit its money and power.  The nation’s capital ended up in a swamp because Thomas Jefferson wanted to keep it out of the big cities (such as New York and Philadelphia).  History has shown that wealth (the big cities) and power (sovereign authority) combine to make the worst of governments. 

And they believed in the importance of education.  A real education.  History.  Math.  Science.  Architecture.  Engineering.  Economics.  For they believed an educated constituency was the greatest protection against Big Government.  They knew it.  Just as well as the proponents of Big Government knew it.  Know it.

So is it a coincidence?  That the rise of Big Government corresponded with a fall in the quality of public education?  If we need Big Government to be our nanny, we obviously are not well educated.  Otherwise, we could take care of ourselves.  Like we did for the first century or so of our existence.  So, did our poor public school system give life to Big Government?  Or is it the other way around?  Did a growing Big Government protect itself from the danger of a well educated constituency?

STUDENTS GRADUATE TODAY without being able to do the most simple of tasks.  To point to Australia on a map.  To identify the three branches of government.  To name a current member of the U.S. Supreme court.  The current Speaker of the House.  To identify the allies during World War II.  Or even tell us who’s buried in Grant’s tomb.

Few can define compound interest.  Or calculate it.  Few can make important investment decisions for their retirement.  But they can tell you how Christopher Columbus raped the indigenous people in the New World.  How America ruthlessly expanded westward, stealing land from the North American Indians.  How we cruelly enslaved a race to build a nation predicated on liberty.  You’ll find these in the curriculum.  And in the schools’ libraries.  But you won’t learn much about how Martin Van Buren created the Democrat Party to prosper on political spoils and patronage.  Or that the Democratic Party was the party of slavery.  The party of the KKK.  The party of Jim Crowe laws (the legal segregation of blacks after the Republicans ended slavery).  That it was the Democrats who enacted Prohibition because they knew what was best for us.

No, instead, students today learn about the importance of being sensitive to other people’s feelings.  That we should be our brother’s keepers.  That Big Government is good.  Important.  And necessary.  We teach them that FDR’s New Deal programs ended the Great Depression.  That massive government spending on make-work government jobs restored the economy.  It didn’t.  They learn that LBJ’s Great Society ended racial discrimination and poverty.  It didn’t.  These programs failed.  As many Big Government programs of compassion do.  But that’s not in the curriculum. 

Worst, most students haven’t a clue about economics.  What makes economic activity.  What hinders it.  The consequences of monetary and fiscal policy.  So they haven’t a clue about how all those compassionate programs of Big Government often lead to unemployment and recession.  So when they are old enough to vote, they are compassionate.  They approve of expanding the nanny state without any idea of the economic impact.

WE SPEND A fortune on public education.  Per student expenditures are among the highest in the world.   But the money we spend is never enough.  They always ask for more.  For the children.  So, to help the children, they raise taxes (property, sales, etc.).  For the children, they get the poor to gamble away what little they have (the lotto).  More money than ever before is collected.  For the children.  But it’s still not enough.  Which begs the question, where is all that money going?  Clearly, it isn’t to the children.

And because the children are so precious, they’re good leverage.  There’s nothing like a good strike at the beginning of the school year to get a better contract.  Why, they even have our precious children carry picket signs.  Because it’s all about the children.  Of course, unions protect dues-paying members.  And the last I heard, children don’t pay union dues.

But the teachers are underpaid and overworked, aren’t they?  If they are, they are the only union workers that are.  It’s why you join a union.  For leverage.  For negotiating power to get better salary and benefit packages.  And they do.  Your typical public school teacher does better than your typical salaried worker.  And they work less to get it.  Oh, they talk about ‘non-compensated’ hours worked after school.  That means approximately anything more than an 8-hour day.  The real world typically pays a salaried worker for only a 40 hour week when they often work 50 hours or more.  And they often don’t get the Friday after Thanksgiving off.  Or a Christmas break.  Or a winter break.  Or an Easter break.  Or the 3 months of summer off.   When you factor in the actual time worked and the benefits, they do very well.  Far better than private school teachers.  And private school students outperform public school students.  Hell, some of the most stalwart defenders of public education send their kids to private school.  Because they can.  The poor do, too.  When they can.  When they have access to school vouchers.  Everyone, when given the choice, chooses private school over public school.  If that ain’t an indictment on the public school system, I don’t know what is.

So where does all that money go?  To the teachers.  Their unions.  And the public school bureaucracy.

WE SPEND MORE money on public education.  But private school students do better than public school students.  And private school teachers make less than public school teachers.  So when we pay more we get less.  A more poorly educated student.  So what conclusion can we draw?  We are spending more money than we need to on public education.  And if we’re spending too much right now, spending more money sure isn’t going to make anything better for the children.  The teachers, perhaps.  But not the children.  Because the truth is this.  It’s not about the children.

The public schools are not educating.  They’re indoctrinating.  They’re producing good liberal democrats.  Because Big Government knows that an educated constituency is the greatest threat against their power.  So they control education.  They take care of the union teachers who, in turn, teach the students to love Big Government.  It’s rather Orwellian, really.  Elites taking care of elites.  At the expense of the children.  And our future.

Conspiracy?  If it wasn’t so much in the open, perhaps.  But the Democratic Party hasn’t changed much since the days of Martin Van Buren.  It’s about getting power.  And keeping power.  And you do that with patronage.  And dependency.  Big Government has given us Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits and numerous welfare programs.  And now the holy grail of them all.  National health care.  The larger these programs, the greater the dependence.  The larger the dependency, the greater number of loyal Democrat voters. 

SO IS THERE a paradox?  It depends on your point of view.  From outside of the public school system, yes.  If you think it’s about the children, yes.  But from inside the public school system or from inside of Big Government, no.  Because, there, it is not about the children.  It’s about well paid teachers.  And an uninformed electorate.  And the systems in place work very well in achieving these goals.

So, no, our public schools are not the best place for children to learn.  But it’s a pretty good place to indoctrinate them into loving Big Government.

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