Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

No sense of citizenship – or shame: Wealthy corporate CEOs want Social Security, Medicare on chopping block

"Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase" by Steve Jurvetson

“Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase” by Steve Jurvetson

I like to consider myself a sensible guy – someone who can set aside my own self-interest to recognize other people’s need, concerns and desires – particularly when it comes to politics and public policy. But in this case, I’m really struggling to identify with America’s leading CEOs.

The Business Roundtable represents 200 of our country’s top CEOs, and they’ve recently unveiled their plan for tackling the federal deficit: raise the Social Security retirement age from 67 to 70, and the age for Medicare from 65 to 70. The insular arrogance of that idea is, frankly, hard to stomach.

The CEOs represented by the Business Roundtable run some of America’s largest corporations. Their board of directors is a veritable who’s who of American businessmen, with compensation ranking among the highest in the world. Here are just a few of the Executive Committee members:

  • JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, who played a starring role in Wall Street’s greed-fueled recession of 2008.
  • Duke Energy CEO Michael Duke who, in spite of a federal corporate income tax rate of -3.9%, begged Congress for a corporate tax holiday, saying “Duke Energy alone has $1.2 billion held hostage overseas.”

These executives will never have to worry about balancing a meager retirement annuity with a modest Social Security benefit. Nor will they ever have to worry about finding affordable health coverage at age 63 if they get laid off during a recession.

Don’t get me wrong – I congratulate these executives on their business success. I wish more people could have the economic security they enjoy in retirement. But remember that the vast majority of these executives make more in one day than the average retiree gets from Social Security in an entire year: a meager $14,760.

Consider that in their retirement, instead of a choosing between blood pressure medicine and groceries, these executives will be debating Bermuda or the Bahamas. And instead of wondering how much longer they’ll be able to afford heating oil, they’ll wonder if the accountant remembered to pay the maid and landscaper. I don’t begrudge them a bit for this, but I do begrudge them proposing something so askew from the retirement reality millions of Americans are facing.

Even the conservative American Enterprise Institute was puzzled by their proposal. One expert there stated, “Raising Medicare to 70 will be widely unacceptable to the public. And raising Social Security to 70 is just as untenable. It shows how insensitive business leaders are.”

Not surprisingly, the simplest and easiest fix for Social Security – scrapping the cap – was purposely not included in Business Roundtable’s proposal. That idea, which would simply require those earning more than $113,000 to pay into Social Security – like every other American does – would “limit economic growth” according Caesar’s Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman.

I was raised to believe, perhaps naively, that setting aside my own self-interest in the interest of something bigger is a basic duty of citizenship in America. But the deplorable selfishness shown by these CEOs is a reminder that citizenship is no longer a requirement of the political process, and unchecked greed knows no shame. So much for sharing the pain, I guess.

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