Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Conversations with Christine

Last night I went to the Cegelis campaign's first "Conversations with Christine" event. The idea behind this series of community conversations is best summed up by the campaign:
Cegelis stated that, "Everyone's voice needs to be heard. Only by listening to people's stories and concerns will I be able to work with my neighbors in the 6th District to fulfill our dreams for our families and children."

With this in mind, the event was more about community interaction than passively sitting and listening to a canned speech by the candidate while eating the usual catered finger sandwiches. In fact, the audience was the center of the event, and an active participant, responding to three questions regarding protecting retirement security. Subsequent "conversations" will cover other topics like health, jobs, local economy, small business, and education.

Below, I have some of the dialog highlights that happened during the event. These are just the responses that caught my attention during the 90 minute event, and by no means an exhaustive summary as I just can't type that fast! The conversation and interaction between those in attendance was the highlight of the evening.

Question 1:
What should the government’s role in retirement security be? Should government provide a safety net? Should it involve Wall Street? Demand personal responsibility? What do you expect from your government?

Industrial and IT economy changes show a lack of planning in job creation. The engine of the economy creates the jobs. Where we are at now is that DC makes it easy for capital to go anywhere regardless of what that does to the economy or job creation. Look at our loss to Korea regarding Stem Cell research.

When we turn to other nations to fund our deficit, we allow nations like China to dictate where investment happens. Investment by other nations makes our nation reliant upon them.

In the past if you worked hard and played by the rules, your pension was assured. Times have changes. Now business looks only at bottom line. Government seems to be rewarding this behavior and forcing this view on how Social Security is handled.

It should be valuable to government to provide this type of insurance (Social Security) because it helps to keep people out of institutional programs (Welfare, etc). It is valuable to for society to keep seniors out of poverty.

Any changes to Social Security should focus on how do we preserve it for the generation to come. Not how do we make a quick fix.

There should be no cap whatsoever on contributions to Social Security. This may not play well with millionaires, but it is a matter of fairness and paying back a system that has allowed them to prosper.

When Bush says you are going to invest your money he fails to note several things. First 10% of Wall Street is personal investment. Unless you are savvy, study, and understand investment, Wall Street is kind of like Las Vegas.

We should encourage savings by exempting taxes on savings. This would be a boon to our nation. This would create more capital and more reserves for individuals when rough patches hit. Instead, under Bush’s privatization, even if you do well in the market, you still have to pay back any gains you’ve made to the system.

Question 2:
What should the individual’s role in retirement security be? Should they have to understand investing? Should individuals be able to opt out of Social Security? Who should they rely on? Themselves? The government? Pension providers? What should the individual’s role be?

Privatization approach is being pitched as some magic easy way to make money quickly.
Christine noted that when 401K plans first were introduced that they were sold the same way and that they were supposed to be superior to existing retirement plans.

There needs to be an educational approach as early as possible. On a national scale there needs to be an understanding of the different investment and savings options for retirement.

Maybe Wall Street isn’t the only place we should think about investment. Maybe we should look at community based investment. You could easily argue that Wall Street doesn’t have the interests of this nation or local communities at heart as they are bottom line driven. This promotes moving jobs and investment to any location that will increase profits, not strengthen the community.

Christine: So then should the role of government be to encourage local or community investment?

For example: The AFL-CIO looked into where their capital was invested. They found many of their investments did not support organized labor. The decided that any firm that backed Bush Social Security plan they would pull investment from. They used their own capital to support local and organizational labor needs.

Question 3:
What should corporate America’s role in retirement security be? Should they have any role? If they chose to have a role, can they change it in mid-stream? Who is responsible for making sure they fulfill their promises: the government, organized labor, individuals? What is their role?

Corporation’s role is to make money. That’s why their scruples don’t make as much difference to the individual. They are not in business for the individual. They are in business to make money.

We’ve set up a model where we are sending jobs to China, and all small business has to compete with China. Look at Walmart. When small towns/business compete with Walmart, Walmart wins and communities suffer. Small business can’t compete with China.

The role of Corporations should have some kind of vehicle helping to keep quality jobs in USA. Corporate and union responsibility needs to ensure good jobs stay in the community.

Christine: “One of the issues that got me off the couch was where are we going to provide jobs for the next generation? Every job that goes overseas is another job that isn’t paying taxes or supporting the social security system. This hurts our communities and our nation.”