Molly Ivins: This debate is landmined with Phony Fun Facts. One notorious scare tactic is to note that when Social Security began, there were 42 workers for each retiree. Now, there are three workers per retiree. And in 25 years, there will be only two. Ergo, we're doomed. Actually, at the "frightening" current rate of three workers per retiree, the system is producing a surplus and being skimmed to finance the rest of the federal budget. Alas, Al Gore's famous "lockbox" got lost along with a lot of hanging chads in Florida.
Q: Can we at least agree that we have a problem? A: No.
The argument in favor of "no" has two parts. One involves the incredible shrinking doom date. As Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly points out, the Social Security trustees, always operating on a properly gloomy forecast, have been predicting disaster for the system for years, but the projected point at which it will go bust keeps moving.
In 1994, the system was supposed to go bust in 2029, a mere 35 years from the date of prediction. Now, it's supposed to go bust in 2042, 38 years down the road.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, using a more realistic model, the trust fund will run out in 2052, and even then it will cover 81 percent of the promised benefits. To fully fund this shortfall would require additional revenue of 0.54 percent of GDP, less than we are currently spending in Iraq. Or, as Paul Krugman noted in The New York Times, about one quarter of the revenue lost each year by President Bush's tax cuts, "roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes of $500,000 a year."
Next week, the White House will launch a giant public relations campaign, just as it did with the campaign to sell us on the Iraq war, with a lot of phony information to convince us all this lunacy is good for us. Social Security is of particular concern to women, since we live longer and have fewer earnings to rely on in retirement.
It's kind of hard not to be stunned by the irresponsibility of this scheme. To just blithely borrow the money to destroy a successful social program is, well, loony, bizarre and irresponsible.
Krugman - Since the politics of privatization depend on convincing the public that there is a Social Security crisis, the privatizers have done their best to invent one.
My favorite example of their three-card-monte logic goes like this: First, they insist that the Social Security system’s current surplus and the trust fund it has been accumulating with that surplus are meaningless. Social Security, they say, isn’t really an independent entity — it’s just part of the federal government.
If the trust fund is meaningless, by the way, that Greenspan-sponsored tax increase in the 1980s was nothing but an exercise in class warfare: Taxes on working-class Americans went up, taxes on the affluent went down, and the workers have nothing to show for their sacrifice.
But never mind: The same people who claim that Social Security isn’t an independent entity when it runs surpluses also insist that late next decade, when the benefit payments start to exceed the payroll tax receipts, this will represent a crisis — you see, Social Security has its own dedicated financing, and therefore must stand on its own.
There’s no honest way anyone can hold both these positions, but very little about the privatizers’ position is honest. They come to bury Social Security, not to save it. They aren’t sincerely concerned about the possibility that the system will someday fail; they’re disturbed by the system’s historic success.
For Social Security is a government program that works, a demonstration that a modest amount of taxing and spending can make people’s lives better and more secure. And that’s why the right wants to destroy it.
Josh Marshall has the plan for how the Democrats win this one.
Of course, the big story from Josh is that the Kerik nanny story is totally bogus. She never existed and the White House either fell for it or helped make it up. In any reality based world this is the least important story but this will get the publicity if the SCLM picks it up to shove down the right-wing media who has made it the big story. The Right Wurlitzer has been pushing the GOP talking point that Kerik really only resigned over a silly nanny problem which the right-wing could understand and also poh-pah the Political Correctness that forced him to turn down the head of Homeland Security post.