From Alternet, By Thomas Geoghegan
If people are willing to pay more just to “save” Social Security, they should be glad to pay more to raise it.
What does it take to get Social Security up to half the average worker’s earnings? According to the National Academy of Social Insurance, to close the deficit and raise benefits to nearly half of average worker earnings, we would need to find an additional 5 percent of taxable payroll, or find the money elsewhere. If we lift the cap on the payroll tax without paying more benefits to those above it, that gets us 2.32 percent (or a bit less if we slightly increase benefits to the rich). Dedicating revenues from the estate tax at its 2009 levels to Social Security gets another half percent. A few other tweaks, like covering new public employees, add another 0.42 percent. The remainder can be found by raising the payroll tax by roughly 1 percentage point for both employees and employers.
I can hear the argument: It will discourage jobs, blah, blah. While I sympathize with the health costs employers pay (I am an employer, at our tiny law firm), they have had a windfall on pensions. In 1975, when I left law school, around two-fifths of American workers were in defined-benefit plans. Now it’s just a fifth, and dropping. For employers, that’s not the real bonanza.
Retirees today are shortchanged on Social Security because they have been shortchanged on wages for their entire working lives. The labor economist Richard B. Freeman points out that the hourly earnings of workers dropped by 8 percent from 1973 to 2005 while productivity shot up 55 percent or more. The United States is one of the few developed countries where workers are routinely cheated of a share in higher productivity.
And where has the money from the extra productivity gone? It’s gone right to the top, to the top few percent. If wages had been paid fairly based on productivity, there would have been enough money subject to the payroll tax to avoid even a modest shortfall.
As I write, the Democrats are proposing to cut payroll taxes — supposedly to create jobs. But the last cut in the payroll tax, a few months back, led to little or no hiring. And did I mention the Paul Ryan plan? Just wait until the Democrats accept some “reasonable” version of this Republican document.
A bigger pension — a raise in Social Security benefits — is the stimulus this demoralized country needs. Come on, Democrats: think of F.D.R., Robert Wagner, or heck, even Lyndon B. Johnson. Let’s ask ourselves: Who are we for?”