The End Of Retirement, And No Outrage To Be Found

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 at 03:59 PM

Today's Wall Street Journal asks, in a subheadline on page one, if we are looking at "The End of Retirement?"

There are dual stories in the paper on the sorry state of retirement benefits from some of the largest American corporations, including today's announcement that GM has decided to "substantially alter pension benefits" for salaried workers (no details on how), and to cap health care benefits for salaried employees and their families at the 2006 levels.

Bad stuff if you're one of those ordinary Americans whose share of the "ownership society" is...ordinary, far below the level of ownership enjoyed by Mr. Bush and those who own most of the corporate stock.  Bad enough news that the director of Boston College's Center for Retirement Research is quoted in the WSJ as saying:
Our employer-based social welfare system is collapsing.  GM itself is not a big deal.  It's GM on top of Verizon and IBM.

That quote appears just above a chart showing that, for companies with 200 or more employees, the proportion offering retiree health benefits has fallen from almost 70% in 1988 to just over 30% in 2005.  And 2006 is obviously going to continue that trend.

So, we've got indisputable evidence that the the employment and retirement systems set up after WWII's brief moment of togetherness are being jettisoned as fast as our corporations can manage it.  We're told that this is necessary because our competitor nations aren't saddled with these kinds of costs.

But we're rarely told, and certainly never very loudly, that our competitor nations provide for the health and retirement of their citizens in other ways, usually through government programs.  We're never told that our competitor nations usually have health care systems at a national level, designed for universal coverage at reasonable cost.  We're never told that our approach, in contrast, is to worry about minimizing government involvement, rather than minimizing cost.  That other countries try to maximize coverage and security, while we try to maximize the number of inadequate options, and call it "consumer choice i a free market."

So where's the well-oiled outrage factory that the right runs in this country when it comes to health care and retirement?  No freepers in full sweat at the unbelievable unfairness.  No pronouncements from Ralph Dobson or Paul Weyrich.  Ann Coulter's apparently too busy single-handedly defending America from anti-war traitors.  Bill O'Reilly's still heroically focused on saving Christmas and lying about what happened at the Georgetown U forum on NSA warrantless surveillance.  Limbaugh...who cares?

No outrage here, folks.  Just the betrayal of half a century's worth of ideals.  Just a little breaking of solemn promises made to "America's greatest generation."  Just a little (lot) more misery for the people who get up every day and hope they have enough gas to get to work for a CEO who makes more every year than the line worker makes in a lifetime.

No cause for outrage unless it involves Christ, Christmas, sex, war, or taxes.  None left over for Nick and Nancy Normal and their ordinary struggle to eat, sleep under cover, and clothe themselves and their children, maybe put away a dollar or two for their kids education and their own retirement.

Just like you never hear any outrage from the outrage factory about the fact that Monsanto now owns the patent on seeds that farmers must buy year after year--no seeds to replant you know.  No outrage over the fact that Monsanto has sued farmers (and threatened too sue far more) because Monsanto's seeds have contaminated the farmer's crop--got blown into the field by wind, carried in by insects, who knows--thus violating Monsanto's patent.  Actual legal claims that amount to strict liability not on the part of Monsanto, but on the part off farmers who have no way to keep the damn seeds out of their fields.

The end of retirement, hell; it's the end of basic common sense, ordinary decency, and fundamental self-survival.

It's an outrage.  A real one for a change.