International House of Dan: Social Security

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Social Security

Editorials in the Star were weak today again, and there was nothing special in the Times, either, but I did notice a flurry of opinions on Social Security reforms proposed by the administration. A lot of editorials and letters focused on charges that Mr. Bush is hyping fears about the impending fall of Social Security. While this would not be the first time our president has created a furor over some non-existing crisis in order to drum up support for a reactionary cause, he is not entirely at fault here. After all, gay marriage and "intelligent design" would not be the top priorities in the Kansas legislature if the people of Kansas were not so monumentally misguided as to buy into the hype surrounding those issues. Fortunately I'm in Missouri, where... we... already banned gay marriage... hmm. Well, in any event, people around here generally don't actually know any homosexuals, let alone two, or two who are in a relationship with eachother, and for that matter, two who are trying to marry, yet these people are convinced that gays are to blame for everything Janet Jackson's nipple to... well, the impending fall of Social Security.

So I thought I would write about the status of Social Security today, and try to counter the disinformation campaign being waged by those who wish to privatize it. Admittedly, the trust fund is approaching the point where it is projected that it will stop paying out form surpluses. This is generally attributed to increased life expectancy and the retirement of the baby boomers. So let's assess the situation and see where we end up, yes?

First, the life expectancy has only gone up 3-5 years since monthly payments were first made in 1940. (Between 1937 and 1939, only one-time lump payments were available, the first was to Ernest Ackerman, for 17 cents). Life expectancy at birth has gone up about 14 years, but this happens when your infant mortality rate drops so much to throw off the average life span. The Social Security Administration seems to think that they considered life expectancy upon reaching adulthood, as well as the existing 65 year old population when they crunched their numbers back in the day. (http://www.ssa.gov/history/lifeexpect.html). Of course, as current trends continue and the retirement age population grows, this will become an important factor. The baby boomer thing, though, is for real, it's just pretty far away. The trust fund is expected to continue at a surplus (presently about $1.5 trillion, figures vary), which would peak and begin to decline in 2026 (again, figures vary, some estimate as high as $7 trillion, others $3 trillion). The magic date is 2042, if we do nothing, that's when funds are expected to exceed income, and payments have to be cut by about a fourth. The cuts rise to 50% in 2080 (I think), but that'll never happen because once you start 25% benefit cuts for a never-larger population of seniors (who have ridiculous voter turnout rates), Congress will cut military spending if it has to in order to salvage it...

In any case, I am trying to keep this post short. What I'm saying about Social Security is that nobody doubts that we are guaranteed smooth sailing for the next 11 years. After that we can coast on for another 25 before anyone can expect any cuts. Is the thing messed up? Absolutely. Do changes need to be made to ensure it continues? Of course, but not so urgently that we find ourselves rushing for the first available option. This may be hard to do, but we have no idea what will happen within the next 11 years. Maybe there will be a post-Iraq baby boom, maybe there will be a post-Iraq! Maybe all the baby boomers will unexpectedly die of scurvy, maybe we will win the lottery. None of these things are likely to happen, certainly not as likely as a corporate scandal of the Enron variety taking place over the next 11 years, only this one will involve the privatized accounts of millions of Americans who opted out of Social Security. 2026 is also, what? 10 Congressional and 5 Presidential races away? Future administrations may have different priorities about the allocation of our nation's resources, and prevent any major catastrophe.

We need to avoid this emergency mentality that we've gotten so used to. I won't turn this into a post about our absurd rush to war in Iraq, but we need to snap people out of this mob mentality. The only way I know to do this is through education, but then again that hasn't seemed to ease my neighbors' fears that gay couples they've never met are somehow going to ruin the world unless action is taken NOW! Until I looked into it, I assumed life expectancy had shot up since the depression, and that was a reason for the problems with Social Security. Turns out it's not so simple.

As an aside, when the Tigers beat #6 OSU tonight, I will donate a percentage of any winnings I get to the Social Security Administration...

2 Comments:

Blogger COTrackGuy said...

I have only one point of complaint about your post, and it has nothing to do with your analysis of social security (which I believe is flawed, but I'm going to do some more research before I open my mouth about that one). My point of annoyance comes when you say:

"We need to avoid this emergency mentality that we've gotten so used to. I won't turn this into a post about our absurd rush to war in Iraq, but we need to snap people out of this mob mentality."

You and other Liberals need to quit your whining about the Iraq war. We've invaded, we conquered, and we're occupying now. It happened; get over it. The American people supported it at the time, and a majority of American people still support it to this day. In my mind, at least, that hardly qualifies as a "mob mentality".

As far as gay marriage and social security go, these are long-standing issues that have long needed resolution, and, if you will recall, the proponents of gay marriage took it to the next level when San Francisco legalized gay marriage and offered marriage licenses to gay couples. That's what really sparked the debate. Social Security has been a big point of emphasis in every presidential election since the elder Bush took office in '88. Both these issues have been in the national conciousness, and it would be not only asinine, but also downright ignorant, for people to stick their heads in the sand or sit in their nest and not venture out into the world. You can't be a good egg all of your life, eventually you have to hatch or rot.

12 January, 2005 11:34  
Blogger Dan said...

Thank you for your comment, COTrackGuy. I obviously disagree, but I appreciate the fact that you took the time to read my opinion and respond. I will try to briefly respond to your "one point of complaint", though you raise a handful of issues.

As I said, I don't want the post to turn into a war debate. All I'll say about it is that polls show support for it at the time precisely because we have a mob mentality. The idea was first mentioned (out of the blue) during the State of the Union, and it went from there. The reason I won't "get over it" is the same reason that conservatives can't get over the fact that abortion has been litigated, legalized, upheld, and you lost. Change happens because we don't let up, and I think that's something both sides understand well.

Gay marriage debate of late is usually attributed to the Supreme Court of Mass, whose decisions conservatives have branded "judicial activism" (I have forged an unholy alliance with Chief Justice Rehnquist in rallying against this tactic, www.goldsteinhowe.com/blog/files/rehnquist.2004.pdf), I would say that the events in California (and various other parts of the country) boil down to civil disobedience in the face of an extremely hostile reaction to the Mass cases, including another out-of-the-blue State of the Union moment, in which Mr. Bush called for a constitutional amendment.

I agree that Social Security has been on the radar screen for a while, and I didn't mean to suggest that we bury our heads in the sand. What I do suggest is that we continue debate and not feel the need to rush to the first option because of some artificial sense of urgency. Republicans control both chambers and the White House, which makes it much easier for rash decisions to be made. Our nation is frighteningly similar to the people of Springfield in that Simpsons episode when they launch the "Bear Patrol" after a single isolated bear sighting.

As a nation, we get worked up over things, believe we must act NOW, and then move on. Consider flag burning, following Texas v. Johnson, Congress passed anti-flag burning legislation in the heat of the moment, which was again struck down in U.S. v. Eichmann. A year later, the furor had subsided, as it always does, and Congress moved on. Still, you raise some good points, and I always welcome intelligent responses.

12 January, 2005 12:46  

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