Archive for January 2012

A Social Contact’s Promises and What is Our Word Worth?

January 3, 2012

As Congress finds itself enthralled with re-election, I asked “What is the word of a politician worth?” and “What is the word of our country to our citizens worth?” There are two very different questions.  The latter is an institution I strongly believe in while the former are individuals who often have a self-interest in creating drama and gaming the institution for individual gain.

I question how we make decisions and do we backtrack on the promises of yesterday.  What spooks me, as I publish this article again six months later, is that very little has changed even after the debt downgrade by the rating agencies.  While much can be read in or dismissed about it, at its core, it is a grade on the financial trust other’s have in our government.

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As Congress looks at the three largest sections of expenses: Defense, Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security, I want to examine the process.  This shall not a commentary on what to or not to cut.  Rather I am more interested in how decisions are made:  for social security there are discussions on at what age do are reduce benefits offered?  Politicians are scurrying around the country with a tentative plan of reducing benefits to those currently 55 years of age and younger.  They are frantically trying to explain at town hall meetings to those aged 65 and older they will not be affected in efforts not inflame that constituency.

I asked about those aged 55 and less.  These individuals have paid into a program, without choice, with an understanding that after age 65, they will receive payouts based upon a publicly available formula and annual Social Security Administration Statements.  Suddenly the rules are to be changed because decades of neglect end with a frantic period of cramming before the known deadline?  Where has the fairness we highly value and built this country on gone?

Do we back out of a promise made?  As a country do we change the rules to the detriment of many to forgive the mistakes of some?  What is our word worth to our own people?

(A potential solution: two sets of formulas.  All contributions to a certain date, regardless of age, are paid benefits by the historic formula and rules.  From that date forward, contributions paid in and benefits paid out follow a new set of rules.)

What is frightful is that this pattern is repeating again with discussion regarding the debt ceiling.  There is drama and political wrangling but there is very little public disclosure, meaningful discourse, debate or solutions on how to solve the problem: the congressionally approved limits how much debt the country is permitted are almost reached.  The United States find ourselves in a position where we owe more than we bring in and, as a country, need to borrow money to pay our current bills.  It seems that instead of difficult, perhaps unpopular choices being made by politicians in the best interests for the country – what we as the people who elected these representatives to act on our behalf, are paying them to do, and do not seem to be holding them accountable for – are not.  Perhaps there is a difference between government and politics (the manipulation of government to suit ones own selfish ends).

I ask again what is our word worth?  What is the word of elected representatives to serve their country worth?  What is the word of our country’s promises to our creditors?

Will you as a voter objectively hold your incumbents and new candidates to account for misstatements, exaggerations, inactions, lies and broken promises?