Social Security in general is not well covered by the media as objectivity has lost ground to hyperbolic headlines which primarily appeal to emotion rather than serve to inform.
And then things changed… for the worse.
The latest meme “defund Social Security” unfortunately takes hyperbole into the realm of fantasy. The sound bite has evolved into an unproductive side-bar that serves only to distract voters from a much needed discussion about the long-term finances of a program on which millions depend. Instead of a reasoned discussion, we are worried about a proposal that no one has made. In the words of H.L. Mencken, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”
So what is the story behind the headline: the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary projection that Trump’s plan could deplete Social Security by 2023?
- It is not “Trump’s Plan”. The policy assessment of the Social Security Administration specifically says that the agency is not aware of anyone who has proposed the hypothetical legislation.
- The plan was actually crafted by four Democratic law makers, and their staff. This would be very similar to President Trump requesting the agency resources to score his version of Joe Biden’s proposal for Social Security.
- The hypothetical legislation ignored administration statements about transitioning to the financing to the general fund. In fact, the agency has said that taken as a whole Trump’s direction would have no impact on the projected depletion date.
In other words, the Trump had no input into “Trump’s Plan.”
The story takes us back in time. Not long ago, Biden accused his opponents of editing a video to make Biden the greatest threat to Social Security in the modern age. In response, Biden demanded an apology for the doctored video. Now Biden is the doctor.
So what? Politics is politics and this is what politicians are paid to do. The problem is Social Security isn’t stable. The metric that I use to express the impending crisis is the age of a person expected to outlive full benefits. Even in a good economy, someone turning 72 today expects to outlive the promises of Social Security. About half of these people will be turning 87 in 2035 and facing projected reductions in benefits of more than 20 percent.
The single greatest factor in those numbers is the passage of time. In 2019, the cost of doing nothing was more than $500 billion. It will cost at least as much in 2020. Since 1983, the passage of time accounts for more than 2/3rds of the system’s financial trouble. Taken in that context, the assessment requested by Democratic lawmakers isn’t about the risk to Social Security from Donald Trump. It simply feeds the delay that is killing the system.
At issue should be: is Trump’s vision for Social Security sound. I don’t think so, but that discussion is not possible in today’s environment. Any discussion is lost in the noise about defunding Social Security.