Thursday, January 24, 2008

Basic Rights

While I’m not technically a member of the investor class, I do own shares of some mutual funds through a 401-K. My holdings are modest and currently disappearing faster than Bill Clinton’s folksy charm. The experience of having a 401-K, however, has been profitable in one important respect: I am learning how the stock market works, and to some extent how the American economy functions.

I check my stats every morning and occasionally shift resources from one fund to another. So far I have made good moves, but, alas, it is very difficult to swim against the tide in a rapidly declining economy. My plan is to get into as good of a situation as possible and wait out this “economic downturn.”

Fortunately, as someone who will be sixty in a couple of months, I have more to sustain me in my golden years than this diminishing account. I have four separate retirements (Missouri Teachers, Missouri Government Employees, Federal Employees, and Social Security) that kick in at ages sixty, sixty-two, sixty-four, and sixty-six, respectively. With those incomes, I should be able to manage my years of retirement in some degree of comfort while avoiding Alpo casseroles. It is lucky for me that I am not dependent on that 401-K!

But many others in my generation (Baby Boomer and Proud!) are not so lucky. We were here to bear witness to America’s industrial apex, and since then have been forced to stand by in relative powerlessness as those business giants raided pension funds and cut “guaranteed” retiree benefits. Many companies also found ways to eliminate employee benefits including health insurance. So, as the old saw goes, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

A big result of all of this corporate greed and thievery is that a lot of people are on the verge of retirement with a 401-K (if they are lucky) and social security. The 401-K is melting, and a certain stripe of American politicians are angling to de-fund social security by letting participants opt to put their contributions in the stock market – to “manage” their own retirements. Unstated, of course, is the notion that those contributors, many of whom have already been raped by corporate America, will now be ponying up their last hope for financial security and trusting it to the good people who stole and sold their hopes in the first place.

Health insurance should be a right, and people like my son shouldn’t have to put his life at risk while he struggles to find a way to pay for major medical treatment. Everyone should have a right to a secure and safe old age. Politicians need to be kept away from the social security accounts, and everyone should pay a percentage of their total income and profits into the system – with no caps to reward the ultra-rich.

Why must we always rally to defend privilege? Why must we always denigrate those in need? America should be a better place than that.

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