Retirement class war is alive and wellBlog added by Andy Stonehouse on December 5, 2012
Andy Stonehouse

Andy Stonehouse

Joined: October 13, 2011

As high-minded and concerned about the wealth and prosperity of its citizens as the United States likes to think it is, there's plenty of evidence that those divides are just getting deeper and deeper.

The whole fiscal cliff showdown — continuing to unfold before our eyes — is just part of that continued cycle of fighting between the haves and the sort-of-haves, that miserable, needy, good-for-nothing middle class that one of this year's presidential candidates entirely dismissed (until they entirely failed to elect him).

I had a discussion about the whole mysterious system with a friend who's a foreign diplomat in D.C. a month ago and he concluded that despite America's insistence on equality and a lack of regimented class structure like other societies past and present, the reality is that class in the U.S. is very much alive and well.

And it's a deciding factor on how well you will live, what station you will be able to achieve in life, and how well you will live in retirement, especially. Maybe even more so than traditional fixed-class, first-world societies like Britain.

Sadly, efforts to point out the absolutely cynical nation of American business aristocracy tend to get muddied by their own politics — the whole Invade Wall Street campaign, while high-minded, ended up coming off as a shrill mixture of Michael Moore-styled politics and hippie sit-ins, rather than allowing regular Americans to say, "yes, I really am getting the short end of the stick ... why don't we do something about that?"

That fight goes right to the center of the fiscal cliff debate. Obama is heading out on the road to try to build up populist, middle-class support for modest changes that can still protect the troubled Social Security system and keep Medicare and Medicaid intact for American retirees, and today's sound bite is that a "handful of Republicans" are holding the middle-class tax cuts hostage to preserve the tax-cuts for the wealthy.

On Saturday, December 1, an organized campaign called, delightfully, Middle Class Over Millionaires, planned to hold more than 100 events across the country, making the case that those $250,000-a-year-and-more workers can more easily bare the burden of a tax increase than still-embattled lower- and middle-class workers.

Unfortunately, when you read their material, it's also so Moore-like that it's going to scare off most of those embattled middle-class workers that it's trying to help in the first place.

And when you look behind the scenes, you understand how lobbying and power of those well-heeled folks (the ones who had a much different plan in mind for the outcome of this year's election) may also be working to try to eventually dilute America's existing retirement entitlements.

The Campaign to Fix The Debt group, made up of more than 80 of the country's most wealthy and successful CEOs, spent much of the week on Capitol Hill lobbying leaders that cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid really is the best way to reduce the deficit.

Critics point out that those who met with congressional leaders this week enjoy some pretty spectacular and comfortable retirement benefit plans of their own (one figure suggested a combined $640 million in corporate retirement plans for just 54 individuals, as well as Honeywell CEO David Cote, with $78 million banked for his retirement), making the effort to cut Social Security and other benefits again a slighlty cynical move.

But ... such is life in the private sector and the freest of the free markets. So I'll be interested to see how Obama's road trips go this weekend, and how effective the hold-out campaign by the other guys ends up being. And how much of a chunk is missing from my January paycheck, at the same time.

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