Monday, January 03, 2005

Politics: The Deal With Social Security

I read two good breakdowns of what is really going on with this whole Social Security privatization / "crisis" scam from the Republicans. Matthew Yglesias' is pretty short and sweet [my emphasis added]:
...This is not a Day of Reckoning for Social Security. At best, it's a Day of Reckoning for the General Fund that owes Social Security the money.

Some people of my acquaintance believe that this is a distinction without a difference, since the General Fund is the government and the Social Security Trust Fund is just a different bit of the government. But the two notional entities have different revenue streams -- the SSTF is mostly financed by payroll taxes on the middle class while the GF is mostly financed by income taxes on high earners. When the GF borrowed from the SSTF, America's middle class was lending money to America's rich with an understanding that the money would be repaid with interest. [...] Today, the agents of America's rich in the Republican Party are proposing that the wealthy default on their debt to the middle class. That this proposal exists is the only thing that Social Security must "reckon" with for the next several decades.

The people facing the day of reckoning are the high-income folks who will soon need to start paying their bills. Rather than pony up the cash, they prefer to default. The voters -- and the congress -- shouldn't let them.

It's not that short and sweet, there's more. But that's the juicy part. The comments thread afterwards has some good analogies and points as well.

Josh Marshall has a longer breakdown, but he does a better job blaming the President. Money quote:
After 1980 we started borrowing money big-time to finance our deficits -- in large part because of tax cuts on high-income earners. However you want to slice it, we started spending substantially more than we were taking in in tax revenue.

So where'd we borrow the money?

This is from memory, so I may have the numbers a bit off. But I believe about $4 trillion of that debt was borrowed on the open market -- individual Americans have them in their investment portfolios, or pension funds hold them, or the Chinese, Japanese and the Saudis and others have them in bonds.

But about $3 trillion of those dollars we needed to fund the 1980s and 1990s deficits we managed to borrow closer to home. We borrowed it from the Social Security (and a few other government) trust fund(s).

Almost the entirety of President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan comes down to a simple proposition: finding out how NOT to pay it back.

Now, admittedly, this is an approach that the president is rather familiar with from his own business career at various failed energy companies. But it is, in so many words, a straight up con -- one of vast scale, and one which virtually no one in the media ever frames in just these terms.

Not the media, and sure as hell not the lame-ass Democrats.

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