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Social Security: False Consciousness and Crisis [Hardcover]

by John Attarian
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 11, 2002 0765801272 978-0765801272

One of today's most important national concerns is the projected bankruptcy of Social Security some time in the next few decades and its consequent inability to pay full benefits on time. Yet despite two decades of warnings about this, nothing is being done. The saying that Social Security is the third rail of American politics-touch it and you die-still holds true. In Social Security: False Consciousness and Crisis, John Attarian argues that the major cause of the current impasse is the misleading manner in which the program has been depicted to the public and the beliefs about Social Security which prevail as a result. Most Americans see Social Security as retirement insurance under which taxpayers pay premiums to buy benefits for old age, with their contributions being held in a trust fund which will pay guaranteed benefits which will be theirs as an earned right as America "keeps its compact between the generations." Attarian demonstrates that this false picture was deliberately fostered by Social Security officials to ensure the program's constitutionality while downplaying the power of Congress to eliminate, cut, delay, or tax benefits or deny them to certain classes of people. As the core of his argument shows, Social Security was structured and presented in this manner to the public as well so as to make it popular and politically invulnerable. While this strategy succeeded, it was inaccurate in crucial respects, and the inaccuracies have worsened as the program has aged. The resultant false consciousness about Social Security has decisively shaped the responses to the program's financial crises over the last two decades and helped preclude corrective action. Attarian attacks all of the misconceptions about Social Security point by point so that debate can proceed based on realities, not misunderstandings. He addresses as well issues surrounding Social Security reform, showing how numerous proposals now circulating have lethal faults. Most of these refuse to cut current benefits and are thereby saddled with the huge costs of transition to a new system. Others risk politicizing the stock market. Virtually all ignore the larger economic and political context that threatens to defeat their purpose. Attarian concludes with his own proposal to radically restructure the program from a universal entitlement to a floor of protection. Treating the Social Security crisis in unusually broad perspective, Attarian is critical of both the status quo and the privatization camps, and his recommendations offer an alternative to both. The book will be of interest to policy makers as well as citizens concerned about the future of Social Security. John Attarian is adjunct scholar at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, MI. He is the author of Economism and the National Prospect.

"A contribution to the important discussion of Social Security's fragile future and our options to restore its health."--Dorcas R. Hardy, former Commissioner of Social Security and author of Social Insecurity: The Crisis in America's Social Security System and How to Plan Now for Your Own Financial Survival Well written and drawing on lots of research. Does a good job explaining the coming crisis in Social Security, particularly the often overlooked political aspects. Attarian is especially thorough in reporting how the program was misleadingly presented to the public, and on the discrepancies between the perceptions and the realities of Social Security."--A. Haewoth Robertson, The Retirement Policy Institute "As the United States (along with the rest of the developed countries) debates how to reform our pay-as-you-go retirement system and make it sustainable in an aging world, it is essential that we speak and think clearly about how we got here. We need to look critically at the dysfunctional mythology surrounding words 'trust fund,' 'social insurance,' 'earned rights,' and 'lock box.' That's just what John Attarian does in this comprehensive and critical overview of the hisotry of Social Security. It's a first rate peice of work."--Peter G. Peterson, The Blackstone Group "Nearly every historian who looks carefully at growth of Social Security both as a federal program and as a popular mythology comments at least in passing on how the artful or shall we say downright deceitful use of key terms like insurance and statutory right has to pave the way for the programs expansion. At last, John Attarian tells the full story. In comprehensive detail, he shows, blow by blow, of how Social Security's key leaders and advocates were compelled to describe the program in one way to the public and in an entirely different way to legislators and judges. America's understanding of Social Security remians confused today, even as discussion of far-reaching reforms are underway which makes this book timely indeed."--Neil Howe, Life Course Associates


Editorial Reviews

Review

"Well written and drawing on lots of research. Attarian is especially thorough in reporting how the program was misleadingly presented to the public, and on the discrepancies between the perceptions and the realities of Social Security."--A. Haeworth Robertson, founder and president, the Retirement Policy Institute "It's a first rate piece of work."--Peter G. Peterson, chairman, The Blackstone Group "At last, John Attarian tells the full story. In comprehensive detail he shows, blow by blow, how Social Security's key leaders and advocates were compelled to describe the program in one way to the public and in an entirely different way to legislators and judges. America's understanding of Social Security remains confused today, even as discussion of far-reaching reforms are underway which makes this book timely indeed."--Neil Howe, LifeCourse Associates

"A work of seminal importance for today's national debate on the subject, Social Security is a very strongly recommended for all students of political science, fiscal politics, and economic trends as they have effected the Social Security program in the past and the present, as well as projected impacts concerning the future of Social Security's availability to American citizens in the future"-Midwest Book Review

From the Inside Flap

Advance Comments

"As the United States (along with the rest of the developed countries) debates how to reform our pay-as-you-go retirement system and make it sustainable in an aging world, it is essential that we speak and think clearly about how we got here. We need to look critically at the dysfunctional mythology surrounding words like 'trust fund,' 'social insurance,' 'earned rights,' and 'lock box.' That's just what John Attarian does in this comprehensive and critical overview of the history of Social Security. It's a first-rate piece of work."
--Peter G. Peterson, Chairman, The Blackstone Group; President and Co-Founder, The Concord Coalition

"Well written and drawing on lots of research. Does a good job explaining the coming crisis in Social Security, particularly the often overlooked political aspects. Attarian is especially thorough on reporting how the program was misleadingly presented to the public, and on the discrepancies between the perceptions and the realities of Social Security."
--A. Haeworth Robertson, Former Chief Actuary of Social Security (1975-1978); Founder and President, The Retirement Policy Institute

"Nearly every historian who looks carefully at growth of Social Security both as a federal program and as a popular mythology comments at least in passing on how the artful or shall we say downright deceitful use of key terms like 'insurance' and 'statutory rights' has to pave the way for the program's expansion. At last, John Attarian tells the full story. In comprehensive detail he shows, blow by blow, of how Social Security's key leaders and advocates were compelled to describe the program in one way to the public and in an entirely different way to legislators and judges. America's understanding of Social Security remains confused today, even as discussion of far-reaching reforms are underway which makes this book timely indeed.
--Neil Howe, Life Course Associates


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 411 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers (September 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765801272
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765801272
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,351,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars facing an unfortunate myth March 20, 2003
Format:Hardcover
John Attarian's critical study of the social security system, which, according to this investigation, is anything but secure,should shake the confidence of younger Americans that their government-controled retirement funds will be waiting for them when they retire. Attarian insists that funds that we have been led to believe have been hermetically set apart for pensions are actually being diverted to other purposes. Equally relevant,social security funds are being rapidly depleted, a fact that is disguised by the way the federal government keeps its books. This looming crisis is further managed by treating social security as a sacred "entitlement" that both of our national parties are unalterably committed to preserving. Attarian argues persuasively that this sacralization prevents the political process from dealing with social security realistically, as a program whose time has come and gone.
Even those who do not agree with the argument of this book should read it carefully, since it makes a strong case for abolishing or radically rehauling a costly federal program. Moreover, Attarian combines a detailed knowledge of economics and economic policy with an elegant writing style. In his hand, economics ceases to be the dismal science and leads instead to witty prose. This book fills a curricular niche in policy courses that political science and economic departments tend to offer. Unlike most monographs I have assigned for courses in this field,however, Attarian's book is a pleasure to read. I shall order it for my students the next time I decide to cover this theme.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read March 31, 2003
Format:Hardcover
With Social Security's bankruptcy coming up sooner than our members of Congress want to admit, John Attarian's book is a must read. It is not only very thoroughly researched, but absolutely demolishes the web of myths, lies and "spin" by which we have been misled about what is really going on with our national retirement system. In fact, one of the major myths that he destroys is that there is no crisis.
But beyond bringing the truth into focus, this book then constructively uses this better understanding of the facts to also diagnose some of the major proposed solutions to Social Security's problems. And he concludes, with typical candor and honesty, "This problem is well nigh insoluble,", although he does offer a "modest proposal" of some of the tough actions that will be necessary to get us out of the mess that all of these political falsehoods have covered up.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An invaluable research tool March 21, 2003
By Charles
Format:Hardcover
"Social Security: False Consciousness and Crisis" is a must read for those interested in the history and legal underpinnings of social security. Anyone in the process of formulating an opinion on the future of social security is well-advised to have Mr. Attarian's excellent book near at hand. The footnotes alone are worth the price.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Social Security: False Consciousness And Crisis by the late John Attarian (1956-2004) who had served as Adjunct Scholar at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan, is an in-depth, 393-page study of the economic and political issues affecting the Social Security Administration and its polices. John Attarian expertly guides the reader through systematic rulings occasioned by demographic realities, the growing disillusions of the citizenry with respect to the availability and sufficiency of the Social Security system in their retirement years, to the executive controls and exploitations of Social Security trust funds, as well as governmental administrators and congressional political maneuvers with respect to a Social Security-based "retirement insurance" program and its implications for future generations. A work of seminal importance for today's national debate on the subject, Social Security is very strongly recommended for all students of political science, fiscal politics, and economic trends as they have effected the Social Security program in the past and the present, as well as projected impacts concerning the future of Social Security's availability to American citizens in the future.
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