Geezers vs. the Real Entitled

By Sam Uretsky

The term “greedy geezers” may have originated with Connecticut Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., in 1992, although he denied it. A more recent use came from Alan Simpson, co-chairman of President Obama’s deficit reduction commission. who called the AARP “the greedy geezers of America.” The term implies that the elderly, who receive Social Security, Medicare and 10% discounts at restaurants on Tuesday nights, have gotten their share of government (and private) support and should help reduce the federal deficit by getting by with less, or waiting longer to collect Social Security, which former Sen. Simpson (R-Wyo.) described as “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” Those who have selected Social Security and Medicare as prime areas for cutting federal expenses have learned to say the word “entitlements” with a sneer learned at the Snidely Whiplash School of Elocution. Until now, this pronunciation had been reserved for: “stimulus.”

As citizens, we’re entitled to lots of things, the most basic of which are that the inalienable rights that were the foundation of this nation still apply, and that the people who represent our government are still willing to put up their lives, fortunes and sacred honor on the line. We don’t see much of that “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” stuff lately, but it still seems worth mentioning. We’re also entitled to think that when the government develops programs that we rely on for major life decisions, these programs won’t be tossed aside as a matter of convenience or because keeping promises would entail making a couple of people or corporations inconvenienced.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Without Social Security benefits, 45.2% of elderly Americans would have incomes below the poverty line, all else being equal. With Social Security benefits, only 9.7% are poor.” As companies find more ways to avoid both pensions and even contributions to 401(k) plans, the need for a strong safety net increases. First companies eliminated fixed benefit plans in favor of fixed contribution, which shifted the risk from the company to the employee. Now, instead of employees, people are hired as independent contractors, with no benefits at all. Don’t count on those people reaching retirement age with enough put aside for a comfortable old age.

But, if we, the people, have to look after our entitlements, there seem to be others who feel very entitled, and are able to act on it — the banks. During the Bush administration, when the housing bubble was in full bloom, banks were making record profits. They had the mortgage business and beyond that there was the credit card business with high interest rates and fees for late payments or going over the credit limit. They developed programs that made more money on fees than from the basic interest on loans. When the bottom fell out, the bubble burst, and the banks, specifically the big banks, had to be bailed out.

It was probably necessary, but don’t expect thanks. Since then the banks have been fighting against any regulations that might hold their greed in check. They were making high profits six years ago, and they feel entitled to the same profit margins, and their sense of entitlement is met with almost groveling respect. In 2010, Senate Republicans blocked debate on a financial oversight bill. When Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase appeared before the Senate Banking Committee on June 13, to explain how the bank had lost what at the time seemed like $3 billion (now closer to $5 billion) the Republicans on the committee asked him how he would like the regulations written. Neither the Republicans on the committee nor Mr. Dimon thought stiffer regulations might be called for to prevent a recurrence. Now we have the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) scandal.

Libor is the average interest rate at which large international banks can borrow from each other. While the term Libor sounds remote, it’s one of the factors that determines interest rates from mortgagees to credit card fees and student loans. From information that turned up last June, the major banks, which included HSBC, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup were manipulating the Libor to increase their own profits — or in 2008 trying to drive rates down to make their balance sheets look healthier.

When people who have made decades of contributions to Social Security and Medicare look forward to these popular programs being continued as is, the Pubs bring out the Greedy Geezers label and explain that we can’t afford it, but when the big banks trash our economy take our money, and then find new ways to rip us off, our senators grovel. But hey, they’re big banks — they’re entitled.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2012

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2012 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652