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Monday, August 16, 2010

Paul Krugman: Attacking Social Security

The unnecessary and misguided war over Social Security is heating up once again:

Attacking Social Security, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Social Security turned 75 last week. It should have been a joyous occasion, a time to celebrate a program that has brought dignity and decency to the lives of older Americans.
But the program is under attack, with some Democrats as well as nearly all Republicans joining the assault. Rumor has it that President Obama’s deficit commission may call for deep benefit cuts, in particular a sharp rise in the retirement age.
Social Security’s attackers claim that they’re concerned about the program’s financial future. But their math doesn’t add up, and their hostility isn’t really about dollars and cents. Instead, it’s about ideology and posturing. And underneath it all is ignorance of or indifference to the realities of life for many Americans.
About that math: ...The program won’t have to turn to Congress for help or cut benefits until or unless the trust fund is exhausted, which the program’s actuaries don’t expect to happen until 2037 — and there’s a significant chance, according to their estimates, that that day will never come.
Meanwhile, an aging population will eventually (over the ... next 20 years) cause the cost of paying Social Security benefits to rise from its current 4.8 percent of G.D.P. to about 6 percent of G.D.P. To give you some perspective, that’s a significantly smaller increase than the rise in defense spending since 2001, which Washington certainly didn’t consider a crisis, or even a reason to rethink some of the Bush tax cuts.
So where do claims of crisis come from? To a large extent they ... rely on an exercise in three-card monte in which the surpluses Social Security has been running for a quarter-century don’t count — because hey, the program doesn’t have any independent existence; it’s just part of the general federal budget — while future Social Security deficits are unacceptable — because hey, the program has to stand on its own.
It would be easy to dismiss this..., except ... many influential people — including Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the president’s deficit commission — are peddling this nonsense.
And having invented a crisis,... Social Security’s attackers ... don’t propose cutting benefits to current retirees; invariably the plan is, instead, to cut benefits many years in the future. ... In order to avoid the possibility of future benefit cuts, we must cut future benefits. O.K.
What’s really going on here? Conservatives hate Social Security for ideological reasons: its success undermines their claim that government is always the problem, never the solution. But they receive crucial support from Washington insiders, for whom a declared willingness to cut Social Security has long served as a badge of fiscal seriousness, never mind the arithmetic.
And neither wing of the anti-Social-Security coalition seems to know or care about the hardship its favorite proposals would cause.
The currently fashionable idea of raising the retirement age even more... — it has already gone from 65 to 66, it’s scheduled to rise to 67, but now some are proposing that it go to 70 — is usually justified with assertions that life expectancy has risen... But that’s only true for affluent...— the people who need Social Security least. ...
America is becoming an increasingly unequal society — and the growing disparities extend to matters of life and death. Life expectancy at age 65 has risen a lot at the top of the income distribution, but much less for lower-income workers. And remember, the retirement age is already scheduled to rise under current law.
So let’s beat back this unnecessary, unfair and — let’s not mince words — cruel attack on working Americans. Big cuts in Social Security should not be on the table.

    Posted by on Monday, August 16, 2010 at 12:39 AM in Economics, Politics, Social Security | Permalink  Comments (63)

          


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