Will you Still Need Me Will you Still Feed Me

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine.
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.

I really must stop reading the news before going to bed because I spent a disquieting night last night reading Greenspan’s pronouncements on the changes that need to be made for Social Security to survive. It’s not that I was suprirsed by what he said; it’s that dour projections about the future of our retirement is not something I would recommend as an accompaniment to that nice glass of warm milk before bed.

The facts are, in this country, we are living longer and having fewer children — both good things and the way a society should progress. However, both events put strain on a retirement system that is based primarily on money paid in by a shrinking labor pool, spread thin by an increasingly large retired population.

Some solutions come to mind: One is that we decrease our longevity, and that was jokingly mentioned yesterday. Or at least, I think that was a joking reference. Another is to start having more babies, and the technology exists to quickly meet this solution. However, in the long-term this is not an effective alternative as increased population butts head first into inflexible limits on resources, not to mention a labor market that is moving inexorably offshore.

Another viewpoint is to allow a redirection of money from Social Security to private investments, but I think that way lies danger. Not only will this drain the Social Security fund more quickly, it puts that money pulled from it into the hands of people that, frankly, usually don’t know what they’re doing. Then when they get too old to work, what will we do for them? They don’t have Social Security, and they have no funds of their own. Will we leave old people to die, starving and homeless, on the streets of our cities? We come close enough to that already, except that we try to hide this with below standard nursing homes.

If these solutions — decrease the old folk, increase the young folk, let everyone play in the stock market– aren’t palatable, then the only solution is to make some drastic changes to how Social Security is managed. Changes such as raise the retirement age.

If we put aside our emotional responses to this–difficult, because many of us have grown up with the ‘promise’ of retirement by 65–we can appreciate the truth in this statement.

The backlash against Greenspan isn’t surprising. He’s basically kicking at our most sacred institution, and he does so in the same breath used to defend tax cuts. I don’t fault Greenspan on his views on Social Security; however, I do believe that he’s relying on old economic truisms that are no longer so true; I question the general acceptance of his infallibilty based on his stubbord refusal to adjust to new information in his continued defense of trickle-down economics.

He’s like so many old time economists who believe that if we just pump money back into the economy, American businesses will do well; when American business do well, they’ll expand and hire more people, and that will lead to competititon for workers, and the workers will do better. It sounds good on paper, and it has worked in the past, but not this time.

This time we have a bunch of economists who are scratching their head because they don’t see an increase in hiring, at least not enough to offset the losses. They point, happily, to improvements in the economy, but are only now starting to acknowledge, far too late, that these are coming without the traditional improvement in the quality of life of the average American.

Greenspan defends tax cuts, and also defends, and this one takes my breath away, Americans dependence on credit and credit cards, this in the face of record numbers of bankruptcies. However, I can see why he does this: it is the Greenspan Touch.

Because of past reactions to his pronouncements, stock markets have risen and economies have boomed. So if he says that tax cuts will help, and then goads the American people into spending these cuts on real goods, rather than using the money to pay down debt, he hopes that by sheer will power and the Greenspan name, he can start that long-delayed trickle-down effect and finally kickstart a real uplift to the economy.

But it’s not going to work this time, or at least, not in the accepted manner. The numbers don’t lie, and they refused to be coddled. I acknowledge that Greenspan is a wiz at economics, but perhaps the economists need to put their spreadsheets down and just look out the window.

You’ll be older too,
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride,
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.

Jobs are not increasing, and people are becoming progressively worried about their own continued employment, even in, especially in, long-held jobs. Globalization is having an impact, and it’s not just that blue collar jobs are going to China and white-collar jobs going to India — jobs are going to any number of countries. As this happens, without careful planning and consideration, as well as effective re-training programs in this country, more people are forced into lower-level service jobs, such as those at Wal-Mart and members of the middle class fall like dead autumn leaves into new economic classifications.

As the level of living in other countries increases due to higher-level jobs moving offshore, the level of living in this country decreases and brings a closer alignment between the workers around the world. In some ways, this is a good thing — we do need a closer alignment between the countries of the world. An unfortunate consequence, though, is that a permanent worker class is created that has little hope for a future beyond meeting the immediate needs of a family. And as the shuffling of jobs continues, round and round about the planet, the standard of living for this worker class will continue to erode.

(I read recently that White House economists are working on the spin necessary to make all these changes more attactive on statistical sheets. For instance, they are at work reclassifying low-level service jobs such as those at McDonald’s as manufacturing’ work because the people ‘manufacture’ hamburgers by putting the components of the sandwiches together.)

As the middle class shrinks, fewer taxes are paid, and the budget deficit, already bloated like a ten-day old rotted sperm whale washed up on shore, continues to increase. To counter, programs such as the ‘guest worker’ program are instituted to bring workers here to this country. These workers are willing to work for wages that push down the wages of those who are citizens, helping to make it more palatable to keep some jobs here that could be offshored. This helps to slow the steady stream of jobs offshore, and thus keep the taxes paid by these workers in this country, but without negative impact on the profitablity of the companies, which would be adverse to trickle-down economics.

No, the health of companies, especially larger companies will increase and stock value will grow. We’re seeing the trends of this right now. But a middle class that had discretionary funds to invest in the stock market is beginning to vanish, leaving the stock in the hands of a small percentage of very wealthy people, who will continue to increase their wealth.

Now, the taxes these people pay could offset the loss of taxes from the middle class — and it is true, most tax in the United States is paid by the upper 15% of income earners. However, as tax cuts increase, those in the upper reaches pay less tax and since they can only spend so much, re-invest less money back into purchasing of real goods; industries that are primarily supported by a middle class will begin to modify to provide mass-produced cheap goods for a larger group of lower-income people, or smaller numbers of luxury goods for a higher-income people.

(Some say that Michael Eisner’s management is responsible for Disney having problems with profitability in the last five years, and from what I read, he hasn’t helped. But I think a stronger factor is that Disney is, to all intents and purposes, a middle-income class company.)

By holding the line on continuing to cut taxes and then cutting most social programs, we remov the funds that could re-train the, let’s say displaced computer programmer, as a high school teacher or registered nurse — both professions that have a continued demand for people. Providing this type of training will increase the competition for these jobs and generate an increase in the style of living for both groups. This is counter to the worker class scenario, and cuts into profits of hospitals and health care programs, and increases the needs for more taxes to pay for schools. Rather than re-train our workers, we’ll use part of the guest worker program to fill these needs — already happening — and keep the economic incentives down to move displaced workers into these professions.

The worker class scenario of a the new trickle-down economics demands a downward shift in workers, not a lateral one.

In addition, cutting social programs also means that those who are poor are more likely to remain poor because they won’t have access to facilities that might help them climb out of their poverty. Poverty also leads to adherance to more dogmatic religious beliefs in addition to an increased birthrate — both incidental but useful components in the infrastructure of the new economics. Additionally, cutting social programs also means less money to medical programs including wellness programs for children and older people, and we can, of course, kiss any kind of universal health care program good-bye.

Holding the bottom line and delivering cheap will become the focus of this current run of trickle-down economics that Greenspan seems to lovingly embrace; having adverse impact on not only the people but also on the environment (but not the economy, which should continue to thrive). We’re already seeing a return to coal fired utility plants something that most of us swore we would never support.

However, after re-reading all of this, I may have to reconsider my disagreement with Greenspan’s approach, especially in regards to the upcoming crises in Social Security. By his reliance on trickle-down economics we will be seeing people who have less access to quality health care; this will probably be combined with a decreased life span due to worries about economic fluctuations, not to mention the stress of seeing one’s career being shunted ever downwards. And less social spending will result in a less educated and informed populace, which has been shown to have an adverse effect on lifespan but a positive effect on corporate profitability and other economic factors. In addition, increased spending for homeland security should keep people in that proper frame of fearful mind, which will probably steal a day or two away from their lives. This isn’t to mention the known fact that people with less money don’t eat as healthily (the healthier the eating the increased the costs), and without incentive, most don’t live right, either; not to mention increased competition for fewer resources and a degradation of the environment, both of which will kill folks deader n’ than a rattlesnake in a pissy mood.

So maybe Greenspan does have the right idea after all, but it’s hidden with talk of economics and taxes and spending and older workers because we can’t stomach the truth: it’s time to think about putting into place social conditions to kill off all the old farts who aren’t rich but still insist on thriving, and without any demonstrated usefulness to corporate society. These damn old people who stubbornly refuse to shuffle off this moral coil in a timely manner, the selfish pricks.

Every summer we can rent a cottage,
In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera Chuck & Dave
Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away
Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.

“When I’m Sixty-Four”, Beatles

Signed: Future selfish prick.

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