Sunday, August 7, 2011

Don't Blame the Elderly For Capitalist Debt

By Stephen Millies
Published Aug 4, 2011 8:26 PM

“It’s the elderly, stupid.” That’s who Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson is blaming for the $14.3 trillion U.S. government debt.

That’s a big lie. This debt is covered with blood. It includes trillions of dollars spent killing millions of people in U.S. wars and occupations abroad.

The annual U.S. budget for spying is $80 billion. CIA terrorism has killed thousands of people in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia. A million people were executed following the 1965 CIA-orchestrated Indonesian coup, while thousands died in the Sept. 11, 1973, coup in Chile.

The U.S. spent billions of dollars to spray Vietnam with Agent Orange; 3 million Vietnamese still suffer from dioxin poisoning, says the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign. So do thousands of U.S. veterans.

The Pentagon spent $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons by 1998, estimates the Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Committee. That was part of the 73-year campaign to destroy the Soviet Union. The biggest target of today’s $685 billion Pentagon budget is China.

The national debt increased by another $5 trillion since 2008 because of the capitalist economic crisis. It wasn’t people on Social Security who gave the AIG insurance outfit a $182 billion bailout.

None of these facts matters to Samuelson. “[I]t’s obvious that we need to rewrite the social contract that, over the past half-century, has transformed the federal government’s main task into transferring income from workers to retirees,” he wrote on July 29.

Who are the retirees? Most of them worked in offices, farms, factories, stores, restaurants, warehouses, construction sites — everywhere that wage labor is exploited.

Today’s workers — if they’re not killed on or off the job — have a good chance of reaching retirement because of gains won in the class struggle and tremendous medical advances. Their future retirement benefits are a small part of the value they and the rest of the working class — including the unemployed — produce.

Social Security benefits are meager and should be greatly increased. Ninety percent of the 34.6 million “retired worker beneficiaries” get less than $1,800 per month, with 13 million receiving below $1,000 monthly. (

“Disabled worker beneficiaries” are even poorer: 72 percent of the 8.2 million disabled get benefits worth less than $300 per week.

How can people survive on these small amounts? To get rid of decaying food, many supermarkets give small discounts to seniors. Landlords don’t give any breaks. The monthly rent for a small apartment in poor New York City neighborhoods is $1,100 or more.

Before the checks arrive, elderly New Yorkers bring carts of bottles and cans to stores for redemption. This option isn’t even available in many cities.

Work until you drop

It’s dishonest to pit workers against retirees, as Samuelson does. It’s part of the ruling class campaign to blame elderly people — and those getting food stamps and Medicaid — for the economic crisis.

Samuelson writes for the Washington Post, the biggest mouthpiece of the military-industrial complex. The Economist magazine is demanding a retirement age of 70.

The capitalists want you to work until you drop. Karl Marx explained how the capitalists spent centuries lengthening the workday. He called this process “absolute surplus value” — extending the time a worker has to produce profits. Another way to gauge exploitation is “relative surplus value” — making people work harder and faster, like making nurses take care of more patients or speeding up an assembly line.

It’s outrageous to call for increasing the retirement age when millions of young people can’t find jobs. Forty-five percent of African Americans aged 16 to 19 and 35.4 percent of Latino/a youth were unemployed in June, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Increasing the retirement age is also obscene because so many workers, often because of racism, still don’t make it to retirement. Life expectancy for African-American men was six years less than that for white men in 2007, while white women lived four years longer than African-American women. (2011 Statistical Abstract of the United States, table 102)

Social Security: won by struggle

The capitalist class wanted to strangle Social Security in its cradle. A working-class upsurge in the 1930s, punctuated by a workers’ takeover of the General Motors plants in Flint, Mich., clawed pensions from the wealthy.

The biggest factors to preserve Social Security were the liberation struggles inside the United States. Fannie Lou Hamer, César Chávez, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton and thousands of others fought against racism and helped millions of whites get retirement and medical benefits.

Elizabeth Ross, a founder of Workers World Party, told this writer how Social Security gave older workers a chance to avoid the poor house.

In a world where at one time 35 percent of human beings lived under the red flag of socialism, the billionaires didn’t dare touch Social Security. But since the Soviet Union was overthrown in 1991, the wealthy and powerful think they can scuttle it.

In 2001 Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill told the Financial Times of London that “able-bodied adults should save enough [regularly] so that they can provide for their own retirement, and, for ... health and medical needs.”

In other words, back to Herbert Hoover and “rugged individualism.” Instead of depending on Social Security, people should instead invest their precious savings — if they have any —with hedge fund operators like Bernie Madoff.

Capitalists beware! Nobody hates their grandparents. Tens of millions are looking forward to retirement. Don’t mess with Social Security!

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