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Thursday, March 27, 2008

A "53-Trillion Dollar Asteroid"?

This argues we should leave Social Security benefits alone:

Time to honour America’s debt to the retired, by John Shilling, Commentary, Financial Times: The first American baby boomers have now become eligible to retire and start drawing on Social Security... 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. ...

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. ... Social Security payroll taxes were raised, creating a surplus in the trust fund that would fully cover the future costs of baby-boomer retirement. ...

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...

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.

There has been lots written and discussed in the media on Social Security, but not nearly as much on the real problem, rising health care costs.

Maybe one reason people are so confused about about the Social Security funding issue and the degree to which it is a problem is due to imagery like this from supposedly trusted news sources:



The broadcast itself did mention health costs and Medicare, but it would have been difficult to tell from the broadcast, or from Wolf Blitzer's questions and presentation, that the rising cost of health care rather than Social Security is the source of the problems. And the interview with Glenn Beck didn't help at all.

Update: See pgl at Angry Bear who also noticed Beck's claim.

    Posted by on Thursday, March 27, 2008 at 03:33 PM in Economics, Press, Social Security | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (42)


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