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Monday, June 03, 2013

Paul Krugman: The Geezers Are All Right

All the hand-wringing you hear over the cost of social insurance programs such as Medicare and Social Security is a ploy from the right designed to get you to support cuts -- don't fall for it:

The Geezers Are All Right, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last month the Congressional Budget Office released its much-anticipated projections for debt and deficits, and there were cries of lamentation from the deficit scolds who have had so much influence on our policy discourse. The problem, you see, was that the budget office numbers looked, well, O.K... But if you’ve built your career around proclamations of imminent fiscal doom, this definitely wasn’t the report you wanted to see.
Still... Doesn’t the rising tide of retirees mean that Social Security and Medicare are doomed unless we radically change those programs now now now?
Maybe not.
To be fair, the reports of the Social Security and Medicare trustees released Friday do suggest that America’s retirement system needs some significant work. The ratio of Americans over 65 to those of working age will rise inexorably over the decades ahead, and this will translate into rising spending on Social Security and Medicare as a share of national income.
But the numbers aren’t nearly as overwhelming as you might have imagined,... the data suggest that we can, if we choose, maintain social insurance as we know it with only modest adjustments. ...
So what are we looking at here? The latest projections show the combined cost of Social Security and Medicare rising by a bit more than 3 percent of G.D.P. between now and 2035, and that number could easily come down with more effort on the health care front. Now, 3 percent of G.D.P. is a big number, but it’s not an economy-crushing number. The United States could, for example, close that gap entirely through tax increases, with no reduction in benefits at all, and still have one of the lowest overall tax rates in the advanced world.
But haven’t all the great and the good been telling us that Social Security and Medicare ... are unsustainable, that they must be totally revamped — and made much less generous? Why yes, they have; they’ve also been telling us that we must slash spending right away or we’ll face a Greek-style fiscal crisis. They were wrong about that, and they’re wrong about the longer run, too.
The truth is that the long-term outlook for Social Security and Medicare, while not great, actually isn’t all that bad. It’s time to stop obsessing about how we’ll pay benefits to retirees in 2035 and focus instead on how we’re going to provide jobs to unemployed Americans in the here and now.


    Posted by on Monday, June 3, 2013 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Social Insurance | Permalink  Comments (60)


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