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Social Security: Debunking the Entitlement Myth

‘Entitlement’ seems to be the newest dirty word added to the political lexicon this last year. From apocalyptic fear-mongering on the side of the right to the ever sensationalist musings by the mainstream media, such entitlements as Social Security and Medicare have emerged as the favorite scapegoat for our current economic situation.

This is beyond misleading…it’s just plain wrong. Social Security and Medicare add nothing to the deficit. They have their own revenue streams through the national income tax. While many may cite the impending catastrophe of baby-boomers retiring, this too has already been taken into account. In the last 20 years, these programs have set aside an extra $3 trillion in a trust fund for when the boomers start retiring.

Right-wing politicians are not the only ones implicated in the vilification of Social Security and Medicare. ABC, NBC, and CBC have all had extensive coverage on the state of the economy. However, the airwaves have again and again placed blame on these entitlement programs for our economic failings, citing everything from our aging population to the general lack of funds available for these programs. It’s a blatant scare tactic that uses misleading information to push the electorate into the open arms of the far-right.

So what is to blame for our financial woes, if not Social Security and Medicare?

There are several reasons for our current predicament. The first is the economic recession. In 2011, the recession was estimated to account for 28% of the deficit, down from 34% in 2010 (CBPP, 5/10/11). The second is, most obviously perhaps, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have added $1.2 trillion to the deficit. The third and largest contributor is, ostensibly, the Bush tax-cuts : it has added a whopping $2.3 trillion to the deficit over the last 10 years, most of which benefited those making above $500,000 annually. Social Security is not to blame, but the unnecessary tax cuts by the GOP under the guise of fiscal responsibility.

It’s called starving the beast – cutting tax revenues used to support social safety nets and then subsequently blaming these programs for the growing deficit. This tactic (yes tactic, not policy) became popular during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s, coinciding with the rise of trickle-down economics and the apotheosis of the invisible hand of the free market. Incidentally, this also coincided with an unprecedented contraction of the middle class. Since then, however, starving the beast has remained in all but name as a political mainstay for the GOP.

The GOP blames government entitlement programs on which the middle and lower classes rely as the primary culprit of slow economic growth. Want to attack entitlement programs? How about the massive, unproductive, and unnecessary entitlements for the wealthiest Americans who don’t really need it? Our country can no longer afford to privatize the benefits of deregulation while socializing its pitfalls. De-regulation and privatization may indeed benefit a few, but only at the cost of the many. If the GOP wants to reclaim its reputation as the party of fiscal responsibility, it needs to stop wasting time and air waves on entitlement scare tactics and start focusing on the real causes of this financial predicament.

– Alana Jesse

(Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Indiana Stan, Creative Commons, Flickr)

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