Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thus spake Obamamessiah

A major key to Sen. Barack Obama's electoral success so far has been a remarkable ability to state something that is completely untrue -- illogical, even -- and to portray his statement as some kind of prophesy.

Take, for example, Social Security. This unsustainable program provides negative returns for taxpayers. As our years of drawing surpluses into the Social Security Trust Fund draw to a close, we have nothing to show for them. We are headed unavoidably to the time that taxpayers who know they will never see any of their money back will have to pay higher taxes to support the older generations. Everyone knows this to be true.

One way out is to allow people to choose personal accounts. And yes, that will certainly damage further the unsustainable Social Security. But the program is already headed toward utter ruination. At some point we are going to have to take a hit to get off our present course toward disaster. Taking that hit will be cheaper now that it will be in five years. It would have been cheaper still three years ago.

There is an odd "spreading the wealth" book going around called "Obamanomics: How Bottom-Up Economic Prosperity Will Replace Trickle-Down Economics."

On Social Security it says:
"If we allow people to invest in riskier assets in the stock market, we will just have more losers who end up gambling with their retirment money and end up with nothing at retirement and under Bush's plan, with no one to care for them. This is an example of Obama's greatest strength, the wisdom to see the underlying fundamental causes of our problems, so that we might structure real solutions that will be effective."

In essence, what Obama is doing is turning Social Security into Fannie Mae in reverse. In the mortgage meltdown, the government made extremely risky investments look risk-free. Why would you hesitate to loan money to ACORN voters if you knew you could take large profits on the front end and make a fortune before the music stopped? The more corrupt players gobbled up their competitors and then became "too big to fail." Social Security is now "too big to fail." Opponents of changing Social Security depend on convincing people that any deviation from the current money-losing plan involves catastrophic risk. I think we have had enough mispricing of risk in the last decade to last us for a long time. We need to get Social Security right. Allowing people to enhance their Social Security accounts by contributing less into the system and placing the difference in a personal account replaces a sure loser -- the current system -- with one in which better long-term returns would be so easy as to be a certainty for almost everyone.

The rhetoric about "losing it all" in the stock market has no place in a civilized discussion because it is so ridiculous. In fact, if you like FDR, you may be interested in a blue ribbon commission he put together back in 1934. It essentially unlocked the secret to investing in the stock market: buy a diversified collection of quality investments, the commission said, hold them for the long-term, and re-invest regularly. Ask Warren Buffet how well that approach worked for him.

Besides, if you don't like stocks, buy corporate bonds. A high quality corporate bond paying 8% will double your money in nine years. You could pour money into Social Security for a century and not do that.

The key, again, is understanding the risks associated with our actions. Voters who elevate a President Barack Obama to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to run the national government are showing an inability to learn lessons even from recent history.