January 16, 2005

Paul O'Neill's half-assed proposal

Paul O'Neill, the former Bush II Treasury Secretary, has an op-ed over the NYT today (meaning Sunday). There are some good bits -- the idea that ' Those of us who are more fortunate can help those who are not.' is rather refreshing. But, on the whole? He still wants mandatory, though government-supplemented, savings by workers in anticipation of their retirement.

Now, why does he want to do away with the perfectly well-functioning current system, in which today's workers support their parents and grandparents? Why is it a problem that today's 'contributions are a tax, not savings'?

Let me define what I mean by financial security. Financial security begins with ownership of real assets; so the money saved each year in this plan would be the property of the person who saved it.

Ummm, no Paul, sorry; not only is that not a definition of financial security, it's not even a necessary condition of financial security. One of the reasons Stalinism has been so appealing to underemployed Eastern Europeans over the last ten years is, in that system, where they owned nothing, they were guaranteed financial security: everyone got a warm apartment and the basic necessities to get by. And, obviously, 'ownership' doesn't come into play there.

Social security is a brilliant, healthy system. Yes, it will require minor tweaks in thirty or forty years, but thus far Americans have always been willing to make those changes, and I expect they will be able to make them in the future. Privatization is a scheme concocted by radical laissez-faire ideologues to shrink the role of government in making sure everyone has a decent life. Don't listen to them, and don't listen to Paul O'Neill's craptacular compromise.

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