By Manifesto Joe
In 1984, I was a hungry young reporter about 6 years out of college and 3 years out of grad school. I have a vivid memory of interviewing a 34-year-old rancher named Rick Perry, who was then at the dawn of his now-storied political career. Rick was running for state representative in our district, as a right-wing Democrat.
I'd have to dig up that clip for particulars, but I got the definite impression of a good-ol'-boy Ken doll, not the sharpest pencil in the box. If you had mentioned something to him about Ponzi back then, I think he would have said that the Ponz was his favorite character on the TV show Happy Days.
Over 26 years later, Rick "Governor Goodhair" Perry has been re-elected by a solid majority to become Texas' longest-serving governor. And, of course, he's now a Republican. Switched back around 1990, when he decided to run for Agriculture Commissioner.
He recently made the rounds on national talking-heads TV, and among other things, he compared Social Security to a Ponzi scheme, unsustainable. You could almost hear him say that down hiear in the great Republic of Texas, we has a better way of pensionin' folks off than that thar Washington federal Democrat nonsense.
A Ponzi scheme?
Let's think this through a bit. Charles Ponzi, back around the 1920s, became notorious for running an investment scam in which new investors put up money to pay the older investors, thus keeping the scam going in a manner sort of like check-kiting.
I suppose that the reason that Governor Goodhair makes this comparison -- and of course it wasn't his original idea -- is that Social Security's current contributors, those now employed and employing, are putting up the money to support the current retirees. And, as the pool of retirees grows larger as more baby boomers retire, that puts an increasingly heavy burden on the current contributors. So, it is supposed to be doomed to fail.
But the differences are being ignored. In the first place, Social Security contributions are not "invested." It's a trust fund. And there are no guarantees of anything. A worker can conceivably pay into the system for 45 years, and if he or she dies just before becoming eligible to collect, they get nothing if no surviving spouse is there to claim it.
It is not, and has never been, an "investment." It is social insurance. And in the world of insurance, one must meet certain criteria in order to collect after the premiums have been paid. That has always been the way the system worked, and it has always been very upfront. I get an annual statement that details how much taxable income the system has recorded for me, and how much I would get if I meet certain conditions. But if I die before I can collect, and if my spouse dies, too, we get -- zip. That's the way it works, and no one has been misled in the least. Someone else who lives a longer time may benefit from what my spouse and I did not have the longevity to need. That's the system, and it always has been. It's not much different from any other insurance program. With, say, a life insurance policy, if I die young, and my spouse/beneficiary outlives me, she collects. If we both live to be decrepit, nobody will generally see much of anything. Place your bets, boys and girls.
Governor Goodhair lives in a house in Austin for which the rent approaches $10,000 a month, while the Governor's Mansion is being restored largely at taxpayer expense. He will never have to depend on Social Security. He has become a wealthy man during his time as a "public servant," and is therefore far above such things. His children won't have to worry about it, either.
His comparison of the system to a Ponzi scheme is the most self-centered and hypocritical sort of demagoguery that one can imagine. But this isn't unusual for Rick Perry. He's built a political career on such right-wing bilge, and now he seems to have his sights set on bigger things. We live in a time in which a dude who pulled a 2.3 GPA at Texas A&M, majoring in animal husbandry, can aspire to some of the nation's highest offices.
Next up on Governor Goodhair: the harebrained notion of pulling Texas out of the Medicaid system.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.