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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Dream the Impossible Dream

Social Security & the 2nd Bush Term

If you saw President Bush's state of the union address, or have watched any American news recently, you know that the President has hitched his second term wagon to the future of Social Security.

He has since spoken widely on his agenda for reforming Social Security making it very clear that this is a major priority for his administration.

Among other proposed changes, Bush wants to see up to 10% of individual accounts represented as stock market investments with some degree of individual choice. US citizens would then make decisions about where this 10% of their Social Security account was invested, from a set of allowed choices.

Fine... sounds reasonable.

In choosing Social Security as a cornerstone platform, the Bush administration is staking it's reputation and influence in a variety of other interests, on successfully negotiating for Social Security reform. It is interesting as a choice for Bush, since this topic is regarded by Washington insiders as almost taboo. Known as the "third rail" of American politics, a comparison to the electrified 3rd rail some trains use, as certain political death for candidates foolish enough to challenge the system.

Indeed, given the scope and danger of Social Security reform to politicians, it seems almost counter-intuitive to pursue such an agenda.

Which makes the obviously serious push from the White House for reform, stranger still.

It's tempting to assume it's just a lame-duck agenda from a second term President with little to lose in the coming battle. But considering the President's staff of well informed and savvy advisors, it seems an unreasonable choice to make unless there was some looming crisis.

Economists have weighed in since this agenda emerged from Washington with mixed responses, but certainly in agreement that if our economy performs well, then any problems with Social Security are many decades away.

A US President's first term of office, is mostly about earning a second term.

But second term Presidents look to how history will view their contributions.

If Social Security's fate is indeed married to the US economy, as must be obvious to the Bush team, then I conjecture that this administration believes the US economy will falter inside this time frame. Otherwise, why bother making a stand for Social Security reform today?

It is a bit of a coincidence that the timing of this reasoning is consistent with some predictions for global hydrocarbon peak.

But if you believe ASPO is correct, and oil & gas will peak within a couple years, then securing the future of Social Security would be a very prudent step to take, and would certainly reflect well in future history books.

The President who saved Social Security right before the economy crashed... priceless.


Santos said...

I think the more likely explanation is that this is part of a long-term plan to remake America. Since winning control of Congress in '94, the Republican Party has made no secret of its intent to craft a 'permanent' majority, the key being the systematic dismemberment of the Democats' advantages. Tort reform isn't about fairness, it's about strangling the flow of money into the Dem's coffers. (See,1,4923345.story?coll=la-politics-pointers )

Social Security serves the same dual purpose by turning workers, whose interests (collective bargaining, etc.) were once antithetical to those of Corporate America, into 'investors' whose future depends on continued growth, while at the same time fulfilling the ideological imperative to end the public's "reliance on the Federal Government".

You're right about Bush's legacy, but I think this has more to do with politics than with anything else, including 'Saving Social Security' or Peak Oil.

UNplanner said...

I don't think this administration is thinking about Peak Oil when "saving social security." It just doesn't make sense. Any proposal won't even kick in to 2009 at the earliest, and not fully until 2011. At that point, according to ASPO, we will be as many as five years past the peak. FIVE YEARS! Given the economy hasn't performed well in the two periods of high oil prices and artificial shortages (1973-1984 and 2000-present), it sure won't grow post peak. To propose something that will be stillborn indicates either a complete disregard to ASPO's predictions or some kind of domestic distraction away from from the Iraq situation. It certainly won't distract from the fundementals of peak oil.

If the administration really believed we were facing the peak and decline in the next few years, they would propose another round of tax cuts or corporate giveaways-something that provides an immediate return, not something people will have to wait and see any benefits from.

My gut tells me this admin is clueless or believes in a later peak date than ASPO.