Sunday, April 21, 2013


The Blessings of Tehnology

A friend recently sent me an e-mail about a new feature that appears on some credit and debit cards.  This feature allows the card to be read remotely by radio.  A person with the right equipment can "read" the card while it is still in your pocket, wallet, or purse.  A way to foil the detector is to wrap your card in aluminum foil.  I immediately inspected my credit and debit cards from my bank to find that my cards do not have this feature.

This message from my friend led me to think about how technology is increasing the efficiency of the American work force.  When I buy groceries and pay for them with my debit card, I notice that often the clerk has to wave the card back and forth several times in front of the scanning window.  A radio scan would probably be faster and more sure.  The time saved by using radio scans rather than the now archaic laser scanning device would allow the clerk to process a few additional customers in the course of a working day. That would mean more profit for the stockholders of the grocery chain (Safeway, Kroger, Albertson, etc.) but no more pay for the clerk.

I have realized that technology is not the great boon we commoners have been led to believe.  Rather it is part of the process by which wealth is being concentrated more and more in the possession of those of us who are already very rich.  The effect of the radio scan technique is just to increase the wealth of the owners of the grocery company by a small amount without increasing that of the workers one iota.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Some Opinions about Social Security

I am as worried as anyone about the fate of the American Social Security system.  It was enacted during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, in 1936 by a Democratic controlled Congress.  There were some loopholes inserted to get the votes of the Southern Democrats, particularly the exemption of farm workers.  The Southerners didn't want to have black farm laborers receive the retirement benefits.  The constitution prevented the exclusion of "black" workers, so all farm workers were excluded.  That's a problem that existed eighty years ago.

One of the problems today, according to some critics, is that the program is going to cost more and more and eventually will use up 80 percent or more of the federal budget.  How do we modify the system so that it will be politically affordable?  There are several proposals:

  1. Change the formula for computing the annual cost of living adjustment.  Make the adjustment a little smaller.
  2. Change the cap on the payroll tax.  At the present time the cap is close to $120,000 a year.  Lift the cap entirely, or raise it to, say, $1,000,000 a year.  In that way the payroll tax would bring in more money, money needed to provide benefits to a growing segment of the population.
  3. Change the age of retirement.  It is now 65 years.  Some workers choose to continue working to some age past 70.  In my case, I retired at age 66.  My wife was past 70 when she retired.  The change should be gradual.  It could be changed one year at a time every five years or so up to perhaps 75.
None of these changes would affect me or other persons already living in retirement.  I have no vested interested in or preference for any of them.

If the retirement age is increased, some sort of adjustment should be made for workers in occupations involving physical or mental stress.  I don't think there should be a special early retirement category in Social Security for such persons.  Rather, there should be a separate program for individuals in occupations that tend to shorten their life spans; some supplemental income that would start at the early retirement date and discontinue when the person becomes eligible for Social Security.

At present the news from the nation's capital suggests that the only proposal under serious consideration is the first one.  I think that instead the conversation should shift to the second and third proposals.  That is, instead of making retirees get by with less, provide more money for benefits and decrease the fraction of the retirees themselves.

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