Deficit Commission Targets Social Security: Privatization Revisited?

(Citation: Barusch, Amanda S. (2011) ‘Deficit Commission Targets Social Security: Privatization Revisited?’,
Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 54: 1, 1 — 5.)

On November 10, 2010, Erskine Bowles (President Clinton’s former Chief of Staff) and former Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY), Co-Chairs of Obama’s Deficit Commission, released a set of proposals with something to infuriate just about everyone—gerontologists included. Simpson quipped, “We have harpooned every whale in the ocean” (Taylor, 2010). Pundits claim they missed a few, but there is plenty of anger to go around (e.g., Krugman, 2010). This was evident at the recent meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, where a senior colleague confidently informed me that the Deficit Commission was going to privatize Social Security.

At the risk of confusing the message with the messenger, the Deficit Reduction Commission does have ties to billionaire Peter G. Peterson, a long-time proponent of privatization. In June, the commission participated in a series of 60 electronic town hall meetings financed in part by Peterson (Klein, 2010). And—in addition to a couple of CEOs and a number of deficit hawks from Congress—the commission does include an economist with ties to the notorious Peterson Commission. Alice Rivlin (Fellow with the Brookings Institute, once Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget Director) co-chaired the Peterson-PEW Commission on Budget Reform along with former Senator Pete Domenici. That Commission released its report, creatively titled “Restoring America’s Future,” in November as well. The Domenici-Rivlin Social Security proposals are quite similar to those offered by the Deficit Commission (Bipartisan Policy Center, 2010). So yes, the Deficit Commission is closely tied to those who once advanced the privatization cause.

Still, we may be fighting yesterday’s battles here, as none of these reports mention the “p” word. Is it wishful thinking to declare privatization well-and-truly dead in the wake of the Great Recession?

Noting that their social security proposals will not reduce the deficit, Bowles and Simpson promote what they call “reforming” Social Security “for its own sake.” (National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, 2010, p. 43) Here are their proposals: Read more . . .

Comments are closed.