View from the couch: Social Security lives!



I caught a bit of Rick Perry, the governor of don't-mess-with Texas, on FoxNews Sunday, talking with Chris Wallace, who looked somewhat flustered for a FoxNews employee, as Perry kept spouting Republican talking points as if they were ideas. Amongst the nonsense uttered was Perry attacking Social Security with the usual right-wing shibboleths ("a Ponzi scheme," "unfunded liabilities and not one dime saved to pay for them"), remarks that are all fantasy, though used constantly: Young people will never get SS, it's bankrupt, etc. It was yet another example of the truism that 90% of what you hear about Social Security on TV is out-and-out lies.

It's not that some people, even the critics, don't know better. But the right's campaign waged against Social Security has a long history, dating back to its beginnings and FDR, the class traitor. The class traitor of the rich class, that is. Indeed, the "libertarian" CATO Institute was more or less founded (in 1977 with money provided by one of the notorious Koch brothers) to do away with Social Security -- that is, have it privatized.

So pervasive has been the attack by the right-wing commentary-iat on Social Security since the '90s that such disinformation has become conventional wisdom. It's not "objective" journalism to let someone lie about the program without the inquisitor taking note of the untruths. That's why, I suppose, Wallace looked so dismayed at some of Perry's remarks and, though Wallace didn't contradict him, he at least questioned him. And Perry just came up with more canned answers.

The dirty secret of Social Security is that its money has been used by the government since LBJ's "reforms" to pay for a lot of the government's business and Ronald Reagan in 1983 put it back "Off Budget" after the Greenspan Commission's spurt of reform – the Social Security System's budget surplus lets Congress play endless budgetary tricks. Who pays for America's wars and standard of living for its upper income citizens? Why, the workers of the world do; that is, the workers of America and China.

Both the U.S. and Chinese get our bonds to pay for the debt incurred. One of the more ludicrous things George W. Bush did, during his unsuccessful push at the beginning of his second term to privatize Social Security, was to declare the bonds Social Security holds as worthless. The Chicago Sun-Times ran a picture next to a column of mine on the subject, at the time, of Bush standing next to filing cabinets full of these bonds, with a Federal employee looking alarmed at W's pronouncements. Tell it to the Chinese that their U.S. bonds are worthless.

But, it isn't just that the rich want their continue tax breaks (and more!); they have the workers of the United States pay for the country's bills by making use of the Social Security money that comes out of their paychecks every week or month. Al Gore made things worse by going on about his "lock box" in 2000 without ever making it clear what he was talking about.

Nonetheless, the Social Security system does not increase the deficit, is not insolvent, and the figure tossed around about of only paying 75% of promised monies decades from now is only true if all economic realities remain constant (meaning high unemployment, etc.) During the Clinton years that date kept getting pushed out almost to the end of the century, because of all the increased economic activity. The recent Bowles-Simpson chairmen's report on lowering the deficit that was released has the usual rich-looking-after-themselves solutions to eliminate for the foreseeable future any possible shortfall in Social Security. Limit the raising of the cap on the rich folks' contributions, while redoing the formula for figuring inflation for all those who need SS the most, thereby cutting their benefits. Erskine Bowles is selling the new synthetic snake oil and Alan Simpson (a truly unpleasant figure) is selling the old version of crude snake oil.

Social Security keeps getting lumped with Medicare as a program in trouble, which it isn't, by people who should, and do, know better. Social Security has been running in surplus for decades. Most of Perry's rant on Fox was aimed at Medicare, if it was aimed at anything, but people who have more brains (most everyone) than Perry also conflate the two programs. The actuaries of the SSS are not dummies and they have built into the system long ago the predictable changes we have experienced in demographics. But, the wholesale attack on the system has taken a toll. But, Social Security remains one of the best run and most solvent Federal programs in existence. And one of the most attacked. Go figure.


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