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Threats to social security

Being ruled by idiots is one thing – but allowing these idiots to destroy your wealth have us go to just un-American.  There is something deeply troubling is "republicans" attitude to Social Security. I am not taking about this clown Greenspan who was just a stooge of Wall Street.  I am taking about Republican Party think tanks who understand the Social Security threaten their prosperity. So they adopt classic W attitude.  Here is an interesting post by Bruce Webb Why Conservatives Hate Social Security

PGL raises and answers this question over at Econospeak Health Care Debate: So This is Why Conservatives Hate Social Security. Or rather he allows Conservatives in the person of Michael Cannon at Cato admit the fundamental truth: successful government social programs fatally undercut future political success for the Right. Cannon: Blocking Obama's Health Plan is Key to the GOP's Survival

PGL sums it up as follows:

Truth be told – this is a major reason why conservatives want to undermine the Social Security program. Yes – they do try to tell us it’s some sort of Ponzi scheme, which of course, is just blatant dishonesty. But the real reason that they hate Social Security is that it is popular – as well as good policy from the perspective of those who care at least as much about the working class as the investor class.
Another way of saying this is that the debate over Social Security is not and never really has been about the best way to insure retirement security for workers, opponents simply don't care that their numbers don't add up, when indeed they use numbers at all. Instead they approach the subject from two conjoined perspectives: one that Social Security (and Universal Health Care coverage) is Socialism and/or two that Social Security (and Universal Health Care) if perceived to be successful are political winners for the Democrats for possibly decades to come.

In practice it is hard to separate out the Hayekians who believe that all of this is just the first steps on the Road to Serfdom from the Rovians who believe that successful social programs are instead the Road to Political Oblivian for the Republican Party from the Sheep who simply know what they have been told. And of course these groups all to a degree cross-cut, it is difficult to reliably differentiate knave from fool. But no one who cares about Social Security or Universal Health Care coverage should assume that the opposition they encounter are solely motivated by data about program effectiveness and relative costs, that you are going to get through to these people by explaining how small the problem is in the case of Social Security or how honest cross-country cost/outcome numbers show that other developing countries get more bang for their health care buck, that is to make the simple mistake that political discourse on these topics is fundamentally Reality Based instead of being what it really is: driven by ideology on one hand and political outcomes on the other.

For many, many people the claim "There is no Crisis" is not the answer to a specific problem, instead it IS the problem. Without 'Crisis' they got nothing. And the smarter, better informed ones know it (hence the whiff of panic floating around the halls of Cato).

It goes a step further than that. Yes, ideology is the basis for the cries of crisis, but the ideology goes beyond "conservative" values. Trace the financial supporters of the ideologues and you come back again to the one percenters, the people at the top of the wealth mountain who want to erect barricades. The barricades are not so much intended to keep others out as they are intended to keep their wealth in. Support of the everyman whether through better pay, health care services, retirement security, etc have always been seen as a threat to the increasing personal wealth of the very wealthiest
among us.

It is not just an ideological argument. It is a sharing, or not, of the wealth that the wealthiest amongst us are more concerned about. The view seems to be that what is better for many must be worse for the few. The ideological arguments are produced as the means by which that concern is exhibited and addressed. It is far less costly to fund an ideological charade than to provide for the general welfare.

seems a silly theory
Anonymous | 11.22.08 - 3:22 pm | #
Anon which theory? PGL's or Cannon's or mine or Jack's? Until then you got nothing.

And what is truly silly is hiding behind a pseudonym used by countless intellectual cowards before you.

Come on dude there are hundreds of thousand words in English and millions more when you take all the worlds languages and names together. Are you simply too chicken shit to actually back up your opinions with even a made up name?

Tell you what, let me help. I spend a lot of time around the political and economic blogs and have yet to see anyone calling himself 'Pterodactyl'. Which is not only a cool name in itself but carries the possibilities of some ultra-cool images for your avatar.

Or you can take your anonymous drive-by comment and SIUYA. It has been a perpetual mystery since the dawn of the blogosphere. Why should anyone give a crap about the opinions of someone named Anonymous, Anon, NoName or the like (each and everyone of whom seems to think they are doing something clever)? Here is a hint pal, choosing screen names like that assures that no one will ever grant you any auctoritas whatsover. If you have something to say then go ahead and say it in a voice that is identifiably you by at least giving us a handle to grab onto.

(Trust me you don't want to be associated with the other Anonymous/Anon that comes around Angry Bear. And if you are that one you should know you are not going to get away with this kind of contentless criticism. Back it or pack it.)
Bruce Webb | 11.22.08 - 3:41 pm | #
This is the most logical argument I've heard. The notion that singe-payer is "socialism" is just plain butt-ignorant. Nobody who knows what the word "socialism" means believes it. "Socialism" in this context is merely an epithet to cover up for fear. Fear of what? I think this argument answers the question.
Joel | 11.22.08 - 3:42 pm | #
We hate it because it is not successful, it is a disastrous failure that now has 10's millions of Americans utterly dependent on what the government can steal from the next generation to give to them. Americans DEPENDENT on government theft, this is slavery pure and simple.

There is no data that shows proven effectiveness, relative costs or not, the social programs, are all complete failures and are utterly destroying this country as they are slowly destroying the nanny states in Europe.


Sharing is a voluntary act, SS or any of the other social programs has nothing to do with sharing, it has to do with theft, money that is forcibly taken from one person for no other reason than to give to another.

It is purely ideological, the basic principles upon which this country was founded upon, freedom and equality. The freedom to do with your life and your possessions what you choose, and to not have then taken from you for somebody else's benefit.

And the belief that everybody's rights should be protected equally. Stealing from one person to give to another usurps the rights of the one you steal from.
FA | 11.22.08 - 3:46 pm | #
Jack. I don't think you can explain it all by just putting it on the financial 1%ers and their lackeys. Sure that is part of it but in this case the whole of the motivation goes a lot deeper than money alone. 'Control' gets you some way further but not all the way home. But in this case money is just how they keep score vis a vis each other. And opposition to Social Security and the New Deal go back a lot further and spread out a lot wider than can be explained by the late 70s and early 80s push to establish wingnut think tanks. For that matter Reaganism predates Reagan by like centuries and millenia. Google the 'Gracchi Brothers'.

As to Social Security specifically it was never clear that Wall Street could ever make a lot of money from the accounts of lower-income workers, not and have those PRAs bear any resemblence to a worker controlled investment account. If the goal was maximizing dollars they would have been better to lower the cap and use some sort of carve out for better earning workers. Instead there seems to be an enduring belief that efforts 'of the workers, by the workers, and for the workers' threaten the very basis of civilized society, a society that historically hasn't measured everything in terms of cash. For example much of European history is marked by efforts of 'dirty' money earned by trade and manufacturing to buy into the aristocracy. The 1%ers of society were often a much different group than the 1%ers of cash money and yet much of the social dynamic between the 'better' and the 'lower' people remained the same.
Bruce Webb | 11.22.08 - 4:03 pm | #

Some words, like social, solitary, sharing etc are beautiful words, words civilized people use.

You speak of asocial and stingy and envious, uncivilized. You could move to Africa, there are nations without government for decades. To my knowledge living there is not nice, but you should give it a try.

I and others here, we believe the duty of the government is to promote the welfare of the people.
Lysistrata | 11.22.08 - 4:08 pm | #
It should be solidarity, sorry.
Lysistrata | 11.22.08 - 4:11 pm | #

Here is what John Shilling noted:

The first American baby boomers have now become eligible to retire and start drawing on Social Security, the government pension programme. Many politicians are telling us that the resulting rise in Social Security “entitlement” payments will break the budget, so we have to cut benefits to retired people. But the politicians do not want to mention that the Social Security system has been compiling a huge surplus. Why? Because they have been using that surplus for years to hide the real size of the current federal budget deficit, allowing them to spend more and justify tax cuts for the wealthy. US Office of Management and Budget data show that while government’s reported deficit averaged about $300bn a year from 2002 to 2006 – roughly $4,000 per household – the real current deficit was actually more than 50 per cent bigger. The government just “borrowed” about $165bn from the Social Security Trust Fund every year – under the table. In 2007, the real deficit was $449bn according to the OMB. However, the “official” deficit widely reported is only $257bn, because it is government policy to add the borrowed Social Security Trust Fund surplus ($192bn in 2007) to revenues before calculating the “official” deficit that has to be borrowed publicly. The recently passed economic stimulus package of $160bn is reported to raise the 2008 official deficit to about $400bn. But the real deficit in 2008 will be about $600bn. How does this work?

Social Security was initially a pay-as-you-go system – annual payroll taxes of workers covered that year’s payments to retired people. By the early 1980s, however, it was clear that this system was not sustainable. Payments were increasing faster than revenues, and when the baby boomers started retiring and collecting pensions, there would be huge shortfalls. President Ronald Reagan had the prudence to address this problem early enough to make Social Security sustainable. He appointed Alan Greenspan to design a massive overhaul of the system, which was implemented. Social Security was in effect transformed into a national pension plan. Social Security payroll taxes were raised, creating a surplus in the trust fund that would fully cover the future costs of baby-boomer retirement.

Some of us praised what President Reagan did. Too bad his party wishes to dishonor the 1983 Social Security reform in order to convert the payroll contributions into a backdoor employment tax increase to pay for reductions in the income tax rate and tax breaks for capital income. And the worse part is how the modern GOP and their minions invent all sorts of distortions to fog over this agenda. Shilling continues:

Baby boomers, and all others who have worked since 1983, paid in more than needed for Social Security retirement payments. They saved and created the trust fund surplus, which now amounts to more than $2,000bn and must be invested in US Treasury bonds. It is projected to reach nearly $3,000bn in 10 years. Then Social Security will stop generating a surplus to subsidise the rest of the budget and will begin redeeming its bonds to help make payments. Current projections show that the trust fund bonds may be exhausted by about 2041. The trust fund’s full sustainability for at least the next 75 years could be restored easily with minor adjustments, including restoring the income cap to 90 per cent, according to the recently retired commissioner of the Social Security Administration . Politicians understand that, with the Social Security Trust Fund surplus declining, they will no longer be able to borrow from them under the table while announcing fictitiously smaller deficits to justify continued expenditures and tax cuts. And they will have to generate funds from other sources of revenue to redeem the bonds after 2017. Rather than admit too much was borrowed recently, and must now be repaid, they want to reduce Social Security benefits. This puts much of the burden on the middle class, who created most of the surplus that has been used to hide the real size of the deficits. Fundamentally, the Social Security issue is not one of “entitlements” but of the obligation of our government to honour its debt and not reduce Social Security benefits.

Simply put – someone will have to pay more in taxes to pay for all those wars a President McCain will wish to wage. My problem with John McCain is that he refuses to consider raising income taxes as he would prefer a rather dishonest backdoor increase in employment taxes.

Andrew Samwick on Social Security

He writes:

If It's Spring, There Must Be a Trustees Report: I always go first to this table, Table IV.B7, which shows the present value of Social Security's unfunded obligations over an infinite horizon. The number is $13.6 trillion, or 3.2% of taxable payroll or 1.1% of gross domestic product over the same horizon. I've blogged extensively about these summary numbers over at Vox Baby. For the present post, I'd like to make two quick points.

  1. I tend to focus on the middle number--3.2% of taxable payroll--when describing what needs to be done to Social Security to remove its projected shortfall. The number itself means that if we increased payroll taxes by 3.2 percentage points, from 12.4 to 15.6%, and invested the near-term surpluses at the rate of return projected on Treasuries, there would be enough funds available to pay all projected benefits in perpetuity. That doesn't mean we have to follow that strategy, but it does indicate the size of the projected shortfall. Since the deficits come in future years, I don't see any good reason why we don't change the rules for future contributions and benefits to remove them.
  2. Pete points out, as others like CBO Director Peter Orszag have, that the projected increases in per-capita medical expenditures in Medicare and Medicaid become a much larger fiscal challenge than the demographic-driven changes in both Social Security and Medicare expenditures....

Social Security's costs increase to 6% of GDP as the Baby Boomers move from the workforce to retirement. That shift in costs is permanent, even as the Baby Boomers expire, because of longer term trends toward longer lives and fewer children. That projected increase is swamped by the impact of projected medical expenditure increases. And unlike Social Security, there is very little in the way of projected revenue sources that aren't general revenues....

I think it is important to discuss comprehensive reform. The sooner, the better. On Social Security, I've put my name on a plan that could serve as a compromise. On Medicare, I think the best option is to raise the age of full eligibility for future beneficiaries, allowing younger retirees to pay their way in. But that's a blog for another day.



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