The Latte Crowd Busts the Social Security Crisis Myth Wide Open

by on January 31st, 2005

They’re so slim, rich and well informed. I hate em!

Seriously though, people who frequent coffeehouses pay attention. They have no choice. When you’re jittering at ultraviolet frequency from that 3rd Americana and find your surrounded by newspapers, you tend to get educated on Social Security financing and other issues of the day pronto – when not en route to the restroom that is.

And it shows. You may have heard some of the interviews NPR just concluded in

a special series on the social security debate. One of those man – and woman – on the street productions, they cornered their target demographics in the various locales said demographics are like to frequent and conducted interragations at the point of a mike; this the better to gauge which way the wind of public sentiment regarding the state of SS might blow.

First up, some up and coming young go getters who, having gotten up and gone to a trendy bar in Scotsdale AZ, obligingly related how they had of course written off SS benefits in there retirement planning due to the well known “fact” that there would be no benefits to plan on. Everybody knows that..right?…right? Sure, whatever you say pal. Waiter, time to cut this one off.

In the next installment we’re transported via the magic of radio to the sweaty blue collared realm of the all American construction worker. Ha! these 20 to 30 something St Louisans sneered from disdainfully curled lips. Social Security in our old age? Are you kidding me!?! No sirree, these stalwart backbones of the economy have no faith whatsoever in any program that the liberal elitist “Government” might have a sticky fingered hand in. So much wiser, as everyone of course knows, to put those funds in private accounts just like that fiscal genius Dubya – the same guy who drove the only business he ever ran into the financial toilet – says, and invest that in the rock solid market.

Hmm, one wonders whether these budding Buffets actually had any savings in the vaunted market when the dot-com bubble so recently collapsed, taking many a fortune on paper down with it. One wonders as well if these sneering adherents to the miracle of supply-side economics could, say, find Iraq on a map if indeed their lives depended on it. One wonders.

Episode 3. Enter the young urban and oh so urbane professionals. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh! Another foamy java laced brew is baristed into being amid the subdued hubbub of a dimly lit cafe cozily tucked in the midst of gentrified South St. Louis MO. Here it seems informed wisdom is generously served up with the whole grain scones. In this indigo blue oasis of Red America, the SS debate – as opposed to 30 second sound-byted photo ops about the debate – is actually followed! These folks got the facts and they wield them with gusto: yes there is indeed a social security PROBLEM. Yes there will need to be leadership and some creative remedies to sustain the system’s solvency. Yes we may well need to work a few extra years before retirement in order to realize in full this solemn promise from our Uncle Sam. But NO, Social Security is not in crisis and yes there can and, given some quite palatable adjustments, there will likely be worthwhile benefits available to all for generations to come. Gold stars and mochas all around kids.

Now, granted, the ol ringmaster’s pretty hard sometimes on our liberal elitist yuppie-type friends. Though obviously well informed they can be irritatingly irrational when it comes to the political realities of red state America. But as a former red stater now ensconced in the caffeine addled suburbs of Seattle WA, I can attest that these folks do not get their news pre-digested from the dark bowels of Rush Limbaugh (or Air America for that matter). No, they actually read the paper!?! Many have even been known to sit through an entire News Hour with Jim Lehrer for crisssakes! How many shots of espresso must that take? The ritalin of the knowledge worker set? Yes, these people actually do know the facts of what they speak. And, yes, they aren’t shy about speaking them. But neither are the reality challenged Limbaugh crowd, for that matter, who just tend to be more full of horse hockey when they do. Consider the horse’s hind end of a source after all.

To be fair, though, despite the cynical co opting of the SS bogey man by the Bush propagandists in manipulating the information challenged majority, they didn’t start this scam. This alarmist approach, going back at least to the Concord Coalition during Daddy Bush’s tenure and through the Clinton years, was initially leveraged to bring much needed attention to the issue. As a result that which did percolate through to the masses largely became a political urban myth where a grain of truth has been elaborated and exaggerated into a tall tale barely resembling that kernel. Now fully 3/4 of Americans between 18 – 45 are convinced that they won’t see a dime from SS. They’ve largely swallowed the simplistic doom and gloom line that was only intended to draw a line under the issue. A noble intent. It just worked a little too well.

But ISSUE was Social Security then and issue it remains. Looming crisis, though, it has been wrongfully mislabeled, and exploitive are the tactics utilized by the administration in order to shove another reckless ideologically driven agenda down our throats. This despite the fact that even in the most pessimistic projections, SS will succeed in paying 70-80% of full benefits for the next 40 years at least. And the SS trustees themselves project full benefits paid through 2042 given the revenue from treasury bonds purchased with excess SS taxes. Given all the misinformation fed to the largely misinformed by the ethically challenged Bush administration, thank god for that well-informed, if sometimes naive, latte luvin minority, I say. Myth busters indeed.

Therefore, in keeping with the ringmaster’s pledge to give credit – but not loans – where it’s due, here’s to the latte set. They’re firmly on the right side of this one. The same side as is the truth on Social Security.

Sllllllllllllllurp! Ahhhhhhhhh!

Kit Robinson