Politics & Policy

Taking ‘Bout My Generation

Rocking Social Security.

What does Paris Hilton have in common with your grandmother? Hopefully very, very little. But in 2005, both may be partners in an unusual alliance working to derail President Bush’s Social Security reform initiative.

The American Association of Retired People (AARP) and its 35 million members have joined forces with MTV’s Rock the Vote to launch a national campaign to “inform” younger workers about the president’s reform proposal. Earlier this month, this new intergenerational alliance cosponsored a poll which found that the majority of younger workers opposed private accounts if it would mean “a lower guaranteed benefit in retirement.”

Both organizations describe themselves as “non-partisan.” The AARP, however, has joined numerous political battles in its 50-year history, invariably favoring ever larger government. No one was surprised when AARP launched a $5 million national campaign to oppose the Social Security reform, even before any details were unveiled.

Rock the Vote, while reliably backing leftist causes, has at least masqueraded as non-partisan in its decade-long campaign to urge younger Americans to register to vote. Last year, such champions of democracy as Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Timberlake took to the airwaves to stress the importance of voting. The message: If the younger generation doesn’t vote, the environment would be destroyed, America would soon have a draft, and government funding for higher education would be eliminated.

But with its preemptive strike against President Bush’s proposal, Rock the Vote has finally chosen to wear its partisan stripes with pride. The group plans to launch a seven-figure campaign, including public-service announcements, billboards, and online advertising opposing reform. “We are opening the door to be the defender of young people’s policy interests,” explained Hans Reimer, Rock the Vote’s political director, “This is a great issue to do it.”

But is Rock the Vote actually advocating policies that are in the best interests of young people? Consider the deal the current Social Security system offers young workers: higher taxes while you work or lower benefits when you retire.

Without reform, a 30-year-old worker today should expect a 27-percent benefit cut at their retirement party in 2042. This is despite the fact that one out of every eight dollars he or she earns over a half-century in the workforce will be paid into the Social Security system.

In its present form, the only alternatives to a benefit cut would be to force today’s elementary schoolers to pay more than 12 percent of their lifetime earnings into Social Security. Or, Congress could cut other programs to fund Social Security–presumably programs Rock the Vote supports, such as environmental protections and higher-education funding.

On the other hand, with a system that incorporates personal retirement accounts, members of the Rock the Vote generation would be given the opportunity to take a portion of the earnings that he or she is currently paying into the Social Security system and invest it in safe investments, such as stock-index funds or government bonds. A voluntary personal-retirement account would give young workers the opportunity to build a retirement “nest egg” that will far surpass the meager benefits that the current Social Security system promises but admits it won’t be able to pay.

Rock the Vote’s Reimer has dubbed personal retirement accounts “the icing on a disgusting cake.” A review of the group’s blog find that their primary criticisms of the president’s Social Security system is that, under a system of voluntary personal retirement accounts, the guaranteed benefits of the Social Security system would be reduced. Are the folks at MTV really so risk adverse that they prefer the current system’s promises of 27-percent benefit cuts rather than the chance to chart their own retirement course using safe investments like government bonds?

A more likely answer is that Rock the Vote’s liberal, big-government instincts have finally gotten the best of them. Hans Reimer says he wants Rock the Vote to become the “AARP of our Generation.” Young Americans–even Paris Hilton–deserve better.

Dan Lips is senior policy adviser with Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which hosts www.SocialSecurityforAll.com.

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