Salvatore Babones: Problem With Social Security Is Getting Rich to Pay Fair Share

Social security(Image: Social Security via Shutterstock)

The next US presidential race looks set to be as unedifying a spectacle as ever. What would a truly progressive election platform look like? In Sixteen for ’16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America, frequent Truthout contributor Salvatore Babones outlines 16 core principles for a more hopeful vision of the United States. Order the book now from Truthout by clicking here!

This week’s edition of “The Soapbox with Eric Poulin” features an interview with regular Truthout contributor Salvatore Babones focusing on his new book, Sixteen for ’16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America.

“The Soapbox with Eric Poulin” provides a broadcast and online radio outlet for ideas and voices uniquely relevant to the besieged middle, working and poor classes of the United States and the world. It aspires to be a bastion of rationality and authentic criticism in a world rife with self-interested and divisive political commentary.

In this weeks’ edition of The Soapbox, Eric Poulin asks Salvatore Babones about his reasons for writing Sixteen for ’16 and questions him about some key claims about job creation and tax rates. Babones claims to be a conservative at heart, a claim that Poulin challenges him to defend: What right does a self-proclaimed conservative have to put forward a progressive political agenda?

Watch the interview here- Part I:

Part II:

According to Babones, the right wing of American politics has moved so far to the right that former Republican presidential candidates like Bob Dole and Barry Goldwater would be considered liberals today. Many of today’s most important progressive causes focus on retaining benefits won in the past, such as Social Security and the right to form a union. Things have gotten so bad that “progress” often means turning the clock back.

For example, top marginal tax rates on super-high incomes, once 90 percent, have fallen to 39.6 percent. Taxes on unearned investment income have come down even further. Despite modest tax increases during the Obama years, tax rates on high incomes are still much lower than they were at the beginning of the Reagan presidency and less than half of what they were during America’s 1950s golden age.

In this interview, Poulin raises the problem of jobs – the lack of good, secure, well-paying jobs for ordinary Americans. He asks Babones specifically about the book’s claim that the United States has 10 million too few jobs and asks him to justify that number. Babones concedes that increasing employment since the book was written has brought the jobs deficit down to 9 million – still a staggering number. But Babones stands firm on that figure.

Babones argues that if the United States had the same proportion of adults in the labor market as there were in the mid-2000s, it would need 9 million more jobs to keep them all employed. The decline in the unemployment rate from a high of 10 percent to just 5.4 percent since the declared end of the recession has only been possible because millions of Americans simply gave up on looking for a job. The participation of women in the labor force has been stagnant since the late 1990s, and male labor force participation is at all-time lows. People aren’t looking for work because (aside from part-time retail work) there are no jobs.

In this interview, Poulin and Babones also discuss the problems of Social Security. Babones explains the convoluted 1930s legislative history of Social Security and how it came to be financed mainly by poor and working people. Babones explains that Social Security is not “going bankrupt” and in fact is projected to generate a surplus for at least another two decades. There is no Social Security problem, Babones asserts, except that the rich don’t pay their fair share of Social Security contributions.

This is the first of several interviews Eric Poulin will conduct with Salvatore Babones for broadcast on “The Soapbox.”

Links to Salvatore Babones’ other publications are collected on his personal website. Salvatore Babones is an associate professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Sydney.

“The Soapbox with Eric Poulin” is broadcast live every Wednesday at 8 pm eastern time on southern Maine community radio station WMPG. Past episodes are available on “The Soapbox” YouTube channel. Host Eric Poulin’s blog The Urgency of Now highlights the challenges facing ordinary Americans. It includes transcripts of and commentary on “The Soapbox,” its guests and the issues it covers.