BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Yup, that’s what’s going on in American society, with its natural impact on Armenian communities in the country.
Thanks to the efforts of corporations, the very rich, and their lackeys, many, if not most, private pension funds have gone the way of the dodo over the last three decades. This was not accidental. It was quite intentional so that corporate interests would be freed of the “burden” of maintaining pension funds and contributing their share to them so those monies could be used to gamble in the stock and other markets. That risk taking has brought us the “bubble and bust” economy of the last decade and a half. As a result, people are understandably envious of public sector employees who have managed to hang on to pensions.
So what happens? The mindset is fostered and encourage by the same vile elites that “public sector employees are leaches” to encourage the destruction of that last bit of the non-Social Security retirement safety net that still exists. I say it would be much smarter to reestablish pensions (“defined benefit” in the jargon of the field) as the norm, with ever more people covered. This would also encourage a more level-headed approach to investing, with the fringe benefit of having more stable financial markets enabling economic growth rather than markets being used as gambling dens that inevitably lead to crashes, wreaking havoc upon the broader economy. By way of full disclosure, I, too, am a public sector employee.
And just to clear up a misconception fostered by enemies of the middle/working class. Pensions are not giveaways. It’s not just the employer that contributes to the pot, but the employees as well. This is particularly important to understand among the Armenian community, because a larger proportion than the broader US population are small, mom-and-pop business owners, who would not be involved in the world of pensions regardless and thus have no real sense for what is involved and get caught up in the movement to malign the whole notion of pensions.
But pension-phobia and envy are only the most recently obvious tip of the iceberg of psycho-economic maladies. There’s the whole notion of “shared sacrifice” that is being foisted on those of us who are still employed. You know, pay cuts, layoffs, furloughs, longer hours, more work for the same pay, increased contributions to employee benefit programs, etc. Yet, the crooks who crashed the economy go on collecting massive bonuses. The rich and corporations, whose tax rates have declined radically from the high of 90 percent in President Eisenhower’s days to today’s 30-something-percent (and sometimes even 15 percent, whereas most of ours haven’t declined more than a few percent) are unwilling to allow even the slightest increase in those rates to pay for needed public services and infrastructure building and maintenance. Perhaps it’s a matter of defining “shared” in a way that’s not in my dictionary…
Closely related is the opposition by many of the need by all of us to pay a fair share of our income in taxes. This is embodied in progressive tax systems, i.e. the more money you make, the higher the percentage you pay of that money. Invariably, someone blurts out that “fair” would be for everyone to pay the same rate. Really? Please consider that a person who’s running a factory and making more than his employees (usually justly) is also USING and USING UP a lot more of our collective resources. That employer didn’t have to pay for his employees’ education, we all did, yet benefits from it. That employer doesn’t pay directly for the wear and tear on OUR roads caused by the employees traveling to and from work and trucks bringing in raw materials and taking away finished products. That employer doesn’t directly pay for the environmental damage cause by the generation of electricity or burning of fuels on site. All of us, as a society pay for these uses. The way society works is that government balances these costs and enables the compensation of all by the few who use more of our societal “goods”. Higher tax rates on greater income are the EPITOME of fairness.
Finally, and again related to notions of fairness, is the absurd argument that “people shouldn’t be forced to join unions”. First of all, at least in my workplace, no one is “forced” to join a union. They are, however, obligated to pay what’s called an “agency fee” to the relevant union. This is in the same amount as union dues. Why? It’s simple. Member or not, when a contract is negotiated, EVERYONE gets the same deal (again, fairness— equal pay for equal work). So the non-member is accruing a benefit. Shouldn’t s/he have to pay into the pot in the interest of fairness and proper compensation for a service received? If you argue “no”, then you should also agree that if a plumber is brought to fix the main sewer line in a condominium, then only those who feel like paying for that serve should contribute. Anyone that doesn’t want to pay should be able to opt out. How much sense would that make?
To those who forever make postings to the online versions of my articles contending that articles/issues/topics such as this one are not “Armenian” issues and therefore do not belong on the pages and websites of Armenian publications: I hasten to remind you that we are all humans, living in various societies, in this case the US of A, impacted and buffeted by the forces that swirl around us. These forces impact us not just as individuals, but also our ability to contribute to our cause. In particular, when notions of fairness and justice are involved, how can we advocate and justify our pursuit of redress from Turkey if we do not support dispensing justice to all? Please, let’s be consistent.