Issue #204

Elizabeth Warren vs. the neoliberals: The battle over Americans’ retirement security

Sen. Elizabeth warren (D-MA)


In the last year or two, something remarkable has happened in American politics. After decades in which future deficits, mostly caused by healthcare costs and conservative tax cuts, were invoked by those seeking to slash Social Security benefits for reasons of ideology or pecuniary interest, the national conversation has changed. Being proposed is a more radical expansion, coupled with caps on 401(k)s and other tax-favored retirement savings programs, which chiefly benefit the richest Americans. By endorsing the concept of expanding Social Security, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) lent credence to an idea that has gained the support of mainstream pundits. Unfortunately, nobody has told President Obama. Obama, remember, is not a progressive, notwithstanding his occasional support for progressive measures like universal pre-K or a higher minimum wage. The president is a neoliberal in the tradition of Bill Clinton and the old “New Democrats,” an “Eisenhower Democrat,” not a “Roosevelt Democrat,” determined to be perceived as centrist at all costs. And during the last generation, the formative period in which the president rose in his career in American politics, the official “centrist” position on Social Security called for cutting Social Security benefits while increasing tax-favored defined-contribution savings plans like 401(k)s and IRAs — thereby shifting risk from the government to the individual. Michael Lind, Salon, 2-12-14.