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Monday, November 26, 2007

Social Security and UFOs

Having recently taken on an editorial on Social Security by Ruth Marcus, I was going to let the latest Washington Post "the sky is falling" piece on Social Security and how it is headed for crisis pass by without comment (other than in the title I gave it in the daily links of "The Washington Post Continues to Promote the Lie that Social Security is Headed for a Crisis"), but on second thought, let's review. Here's Brad DeLong:

Hoisted from Comments: Low-Tech Cyclist Writes:

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: I know bringing up Fred Hiatt is like shooting fish in a barrel on this score, but the WaPo has a subset of its unsigned editorials where it comments on what it calls "the ideas primary."

Five of the last seven Ideas Primary editorials have been on the Social Security 'crisis.' There have been 15 editorials in this series. One has been on global warming - the greatest crisis of our era - and two have been on our greatest domestic crisis, the lack of universal health care and the upcoming crisis in the Medicare trust fund. None have been on Iraq and the power vacuum we've created in the center of the Middle East. Interesting set of priorities, huh?

The most recent piece in the Washington Post on the "crisis" isn't from their "Ideas Primary," but it's just as bad. Dean Baker has the description:

Main THE UFOs Are Back at the Post (literally), by Dean Baker: I praised the Post a couple of weeks ago for printing a coherent column by Robert Ball in support of protecting the current level of Social Security benefits. This was an extraordinary departure from its never-ending drumbeat of SS crisis news stories, columns, and editorials.

Since that day, the Post has run a strange column by Ruth Marcus, a former editor, that seemed to attack Paul Krugman for changing his mind on Social Security. In another forum, I quipped about this column that "the UFOs have landed," referring to a nutty effort to discredit Social Security by claiming that more young people believe in UFOs than they will receive a Social Security check.

Well, today the Post actually has the UFO story in its full glory. It appears in an oped column by Amity Shales which is apparently further payback for the Robert Ball column. It looks like we must pay a high price for this modest dissent from the Post's dogma on the SS crisis.

On the substance, I am not quite sure why the opponents of SS believe that the effectiveness of their lies is a basis for gutting the program. This would be comparable to claiming that tens of millions of people believe that Saddam was responsible for September 11th, therefore we should invade Iraq. The fact that the public has been so terribly misled on the financial condition of its most important social program (even if they don't actually believe in UFOs) is a strong argument for putting off any changes until the public can learn the true facts of the situation.

After all the basic issues about the SS program -- how much money it should provide in retirement, how much people should be taxed in their working years, and how late in life they should have to work -- are issues that should be decided democratically, not by people who control major media outlets. And the public cannot possibly make such decisions in an intelligent manner when they are being deliberately misinformed about the true financial status of the program.

Where did the misleading UFO story come from? Here's President Bush on February 10, 2005 giving what was a standard speech at the time:

THE PRESIDENT: ...Somebody was telling me the other day ... he read an interesting poll; he said that a lot of younger workers felt like they're more likely to see a UFO than get a Social Security check. (Laughter.) It's an interesting dynamic, isn't it, when you think about it? There are a lot of young people, when they analyze Social Security and think about it, that they just don't think the government can fulfill the promise, which is a powerful -- it's powerful leverage for members of Congress to listen to.

In other words, the dynamic has shifted. The reason people are comfortable about taking on the Social Security issue..., there's a lot of folks out there who are demanding change -- for their sake. They're saying, what are you going to do about saving the system for me? I'm coming up; I have a better chance of seeing a UFO than getting a check from the government. What are you and the government going to do to make sure I get my check? That's the dynamic that's happening.

And that's why I'm optimistic something is going to get done, because people are beginning to speak out. Younger Americans who understand the math and know the reality are beginning to say to those of us who have been elected, what are you going to do about it? You're up there in Washington, D.C. -- do more than just occupy the office, solve problems and do your job. (Applause.)

I think the last quote should be:

Younger Americans who understand the math and know the reality are beginning to say to those of us who have been elected, why are you lying to us about it? (Applause.)

Why is the Washington Post participating in this attempt to mislead people about the nature of the problem? Brad DeLong is right:

Without major personnel changes, I give the Washington Post five years.

    Posted by on Monday, November 26, 2007 at 09:09 AM in Economics, Social Security | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (20)


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