Politics & Policy

Aarp in The Hot Seat

Some questions.

The AARP recently announced that it is taking its campaign against President Bush’s proposed Social Security reform to the nation’s youth, hoping to broaden its target audience from the credulous elderly to the credulous young. Thus, the AARP further cements its status as the country’s foremost lobby against reform. So inquiring minds should have a few questions for AARP CEO William D. Novelli, the architect of the group’s crusade to keep young people from having personal retirement accounts as part of Social Security:

‐Since Bush has said that any proposal won’t affect anyone 55 years of age or older, what possible reason–other than sheer ideological hostility–do you have to oppose reforming the system?

‐Your group’s advocacy suggests that reform puts at risk the benefits of current Social Security recipients, even though cutting those benefits is off the table. Are you routinely so dishonest, or is this a special case?

‐In 1950, 16 workers supported each retiree. By 2040, there will only be two workers per retiree. Does it occur to you that that is very bad news for workers? Or is your ultimate ambition to have each retiree supported by his own individual worker? Perhaps this worker can be made to fan his designated retiree with a palm frond and deliver him fruity drinks poolside?

‐The current system is already a bad deal for young people. Any tax increases or benefit reductions will make it worse over time. Do you realize that your members have grandchildren? Or do you believe the financial futures of those grandkids just don’t matter much to your members?

‐What is your favorite feature of the payroll tax that funds Social Security and that some fellow opponents of Bush’s proposal advocate increasing to fund the program’s obligations: (a) that it is regressive, disproportionately falling on low-income workers; (b) that it was already drastically increased in the 1980s, so it is supposedly ripe for another drastic increase; or (c) that it acts as a job-killing tax on employment?

‐If you like old people so much, why do you try so hard to scare them? Or does AARP market research show that the elderly enjoy being frightened?

‐Your group has suggested that investing in the stock market is much too complicated and risky for anyone attempting to build assets for retirement. Do all your officials therefore eschew investing their own money in the market? If so, what is their preferred investment vehicle (and please don’t say stuffing cash under a mattress)?

‐During the past 70 years, Americans’ familiarity and comfort with capital markets has steadily increased. Do you realize that it’s not 1932 anymore?

‐Under current law, if no changes occur in Social Security’s financing and the so-called “trust fund” runs out sometime around 2042 as projected, Social Security benefits will automatically be cut by more than a quarter. Shouldn’t advocates of the status quo therefore be branded as effectively in favor of steep future benefit cuts? If so, why don’t you say so? Could it have something to do with the fact that the protectors of this unsustainable status quo are Democrats?

‐Wouldn’t it be more efficient for AARP members to cut out the middleman and send their checks directly to the Democratic National Committee instead?

‐The Medicare prescription drug law that your organization helped pass is now universally regarded as an unaffordable boondoggle that will get evermore hellishly expensive. Is that the future you want for Social Security as well?

‐You complain that allowing young people to have personal retirement accounts will add to the nation’s debt. But if you cared about avoiding debt, why did you support the hellishly expensive Medicare bill?

‐Between Medicare and Social Security, more and more of the federal government will be devoted to spending on the elderly as baby boomers retire. Would your strict preference be that the federal government shut down its other functions so that it can devote itself fully to catering to the American gerontocracy?

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

(c) 2004 King Features Syndicate

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