To see why privatizing Social Security and Medicare is the same as ending Social Security and Medicare, look at the recent history of private corporate retirement plans.
As recently as 1999, corporate pension plans had sufficient surpluses so that they "could have fully paid their current and future retirees' pensions, even if all of them lived to be ninety-nine and the companies never contributed another dime," reports Ellen Schultz in her book, "Retirement Heist."
Her title suggests what happened. The companies stole the money. They reneged on their promises. General Electric is one example. Their retirement fund went from $25 billion in 1999 to minus $6 billion last year.
One place the money went was to those incredibly high executive salaries and related benefits. By 2008 executives were receiving one-third of all pay in U.S. companies: $2.1 trillion of a total of $6.4 trillion.
How were companies able to make such changes? They lobbied and lobbied for government regulations to be relaxed, and more and more were. It was then easier to find loopholes and flexible accounting practices. Retirement theft thus became technically legal, if still immoral.
These practices run directly counter to a central tenant of the Judeo-Christian ethic, prominently stated in the Old and New Testaments: the love of money (or greed) is the root of all evil.
Yet corporate spokespersons and some political candidates and their PACs and Super PACs have persuaded many of us that greed is, in fact, good. Of course it is good for those doing the persuading.
Schultz warns that the retirement industry isn't done. They are focused on Social Security, Medicare and state, county and municipal public retirement funds. They want their hands on this money. If they succeed, it will also disappear, and no longer serve the common good as it was intended to do.
One deviously clever way to get this money is by comparing public plans with the current, depleted private plans, plans that not many years ago were more secure than public plans.
Wisconsin is an example of where this approach has been used. When private plans were better than public plans, governors like Scott Walker couldn't claim public plans were too good. Now they can. And they are.
Crime pays, it seems, especially technically legal crime. The retirement industry steals from private funds so they have a better argument for stealing from public funds. Such a deal for them. Such a bad deal for us. Such a bad deal for the common good.
(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)