February 22, 2011
Why We Bleed from Greed
We are wounded today, bleeding red ink, and everyone knows who is guilty. Our suffering is the fault of a small group of people, here and abroad: they are the greedy.
You know them. We all can point them out. Greedy people gobble up unfair amounts of precious resources, keeping vast sums for themselves and sticking it to the rest of us. The greedy are pushing us to the brink. If we had the courage to stand up to them we could solve so many problems. It is time we put a stop to all the damage such selfishness causes our great country. It may take a fight, but we can tackle the problem on principle.
An 80 year old man confirmed this to me in a McDonald's restaurant just yesterday. He said it was time. We have to take a stand against greedy politicians. "What's this country coming to?" he exhorted his coffee pals around him. Then he got more specific.
"I don't care if they're Republican or Democrat," said the man. "I worked since I was 15 years old in 1945 at the spring factory down the block. I paid into Social Security for 50 years, and any of those greedy bastards who wants to take my check is in for a fist fight."
He knows lots of old people who are dependent on these checks to live. "What are they going to do without them, at 80 years old? It isn't fair." Everyone around him concurred, no matter their age. If the system needed a fix, we need to get the money from somewhere else. We are not going to put up with such greed in Washington. It is time to take a stand, they affirmed to one another.
When he paused I stopped to speak with him. "If they could just figure out a way to give you what is fair, you'd be all in favor of fixing the system, wouldn't you?" I asked him.
"Absolutely. What do you mean by fair?" he asked. I said there might be a clever way the government could do it.
"Suppose the government could borrow the money somehow at a low interest rate -- from China or wherever -- and give you 3 or 4 times what you put into the system, plus a risk free return on top of that. Right now. Would that be fair? Would consider your payout done?" He said he had to think that one over.
"How much would be fair?" I asked, "because we're trying to fix this without anyone being greedy in Washington."
"That might not do it, but maybe a little more would," he said, sipping his coffee.
"Well, sir, you can fairly give up your whole check then. Because you have already received more than 6 times what you put into the fund, with interest, since you retired. And the government has already borrowed the money from China to give it to you."
He promptly told me I was full of crap. I explained to him that his contribution was matched by taxes on his employer, that he himself only withheld less than 3% of his check for the first 30 years of his career, and that all the checks he has been cashing were indexed for inflation.
"Have you gotten those returns on any other savings you had during your working life?" I asked.
"Hell no," he said, "I wasn't able to save much at all. I was counting on my retirement and my SS check."
"How much did you put into the Medicare Trust Fund since 1945 for your part of that?"
"I don't know" he said.
"Well, there is no Medicare Trust Fund, but you've probably gotten back payments more than a 1000 times what you put in." I said.
"Hey buddy, who asked you? What are you trying to prove here?" he blasted back.
"Well, you see sir, you blamed greed for our troubles and you were right. But the politicians just facilitate greed, taking their cut of course. The real greed is yours. Multiplied by tens of millions of people like you. When we force others to pay for what we enjoy, it leads to ruin, whether it's retirement, medical care, education, housing, transportation, or food. True greed is easy to spot, sir. Look in the mirror."
"Get the hell out of here. Who asked you to butt in?" he snarled.
"You did. You said it was time to stand up. You were right, and I am going to do exactly that. From now on, I will stand up and speak truthfully about who is greedy and who is not. And you, sir, are greedy," I answered.
I won't be invited for their afternoon coffee at McDonald's anytime soon.
But it won't matter in a few years. The McDonald's (and the old man in it) won't be there. If we can't decide now that we must stop forcing others to pay for things we want, we will all bleed to death -- from greed.