The PIGS. Not the chauvinist pigs whose transgressions preoccupied 1970s feminists, but PIGS as in Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain -- nations facing sovereign debt crises because they pursued exactly the sort of policies Democrats favor for this country. The PIGS share bloated government sectors (In Greece, the government employs 33 percent of workers.), generous unemployment packages, high minimum wages, dire pension obligations and a shrinking tax base. Each week brings fresh news of turmoil in the streets.
Here is a June account from CBS News that Democrats will want to ignore: "To see a country truly on the brink of financial ruin, look no further than Greece. On Wednesday, its parliament cut public services and raised taxes to fend off bankruptcy and probably spare the world another mass economic meltdown, at least for now. ... As parliament did what it could politically, protesters turned Athens into a war zone."
The protests are understandable (if not excusable). When debt-ridden states face bankruptcy, it is always at a time of economic distress. In good times, after all, tax receipts increase. So just when jobs are scarce and times are difficult, just when a greater than usual number of people are collecting unemployment and other benefits, the government is forced to impose austerity.
Would it have been better to have made smaller reductions in benefits earlier? Yes. Would it have been even more desirable not to accustom so many citizens to government largesse? Don't ask a Democrat.
Also in economic intensive care is Portugal. Here's the Los Angeles Times account: "Analysts expect that Lisbon will ultimately need up to $115 billion in loans and guarantees. The amount would be covered fairly comfortably by the bailout fund created by the EU last year to address the widening euro debt crisis, but would come with stringent conditions that Lisbon rein in public spending. Last month, Prime Minister Jose Socrates failed to win parliamentary approval for a fourth round of austerity measures within a year, which prompted him to resign and his Socialist Party-led minority government to collapse." Democrats will not want to dwell on the fact that the European Union will not be bailing out the United States. In fact, no one will be available to bail out the U.S.
Chile. At the other end of the economic spectrum, Democrats must ignore Chile's remarkable success with privatizing social security. Thirty years ago, facing a pension overhang similar to our own, Chile adopted a policy that nearly all Democrats regard with horror -- they privatized their pension system. Not all at once. Those who were already retired were grandfathered into the existing system. New workers were required to participate in the private retirement account program. All other workers were offered a choice to remain with the old system or choose the new one. Ninety-three percent chose private accounts, conservatively managed.
How has it turned out? Over the course of three decades, despite ups and downs in the market as well as terrible earthquakes, these accounts have averaged returns 9.23 percent above inflation. Social Security, by contrast, averages returns of about 1 percent. In the United States, the elderly are wards of the state. Each Chilean, by contrast, has ownership of his account. He or she can pass any unused portion on to children and grandchildren. When New York Times reporter John Tierney worked out his own Social Security contributions on the Chilean model, he found that his privatized pension would have been $53,000 a year plus a one-time payout of $223,000. The same contributions paid into the American Social Security system would have paid him $18,000 a year.
Chile's free market policies have made it one of the wealthiest nations in the Western hemisphere, with the highest nominal GDP in Latin America. Their pension reform has so far been copied by 30 nations.
Perhaps Chile, so far from Washington, D.C., is too easy to ignore. But what about Galveston, Texas? It seems that 30 years ago, far-sighted leaders took advantage of an opt-out clause (since removed) in the Social Security law and put county employees into private pension accounts. Galveston's employees take home pensions with 7 percent annual return compounded over 30 years compared with Social Security's 1 percent.
Democrats must, simply must, deny that privatization provides far superior outcomes, because the truth is that independent, self-sufficient, non-needy citizens have little use for a party whose entire rationale is "Let Me Take of You" by taxing someone else.