Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Laffer (Laugher?) Associates is out with a report on Social Security, authored by Stephen Moore. Before continuing, for those not familiar with Mr. Moore you may want to check out his web site. His background is comprised of National Review, Cato Institute, Dick Armey, Heritage Foundation, Reagan, WSJ, Washington Times, Weekly Standard -- well, you get the picture: non-partisan he is not.

The 6-page report is titled "SOCIAL SECURITY: CAN BUSH STEER THE TITANIC AWAY FROM THE ICEBERG?" and about half way through Moore states the following,
In any case the current surpluses will likely evaporate for good in the year 2018. The Social Security Trustees concluded in their most recent annual report that the retirement system will then be in deficit and that those deficits will rise in every succeeding year. By 2042, about the time most Generation X’ers might be planning on retiring, the Social Security system will be technically insolvent. Retirees at that time will reach into the federal government’s bank vault for their pensions and find nothing but worthless IOUs. For these workers their plight will be an unhappy one: it will be like trying to get money out of a bank after it’s been robbed by Bonnie and Clyde.
OK, there you have more classic right-wing scare tactics, but that aside, if you go to the SS report he's referring to you'll find this stated conclusion,
Based on the Trustees’ best estimate, program cost will exceed tax revenues starting in 2018 and throughout the remainder of the 75-year projection period. Social Security’s combined trust funds are projected to allow full payment of benefits until they become exhausted in 2042. At that time annual tax income to the trust funds is projected to equal about 73 percent of program costs. Separately, the OASI and DI funds are projected to have sufficient funds to pay full benefits on time until 2044 and 2029, respectively. By 2078, however, annual tax income is projected to be only about two-thirds as large as the annual cost of the OASDI program.
Call me crazy but I do not believe what Moore states is equivalent to what I interpret in the above SSA's conclusion. Also, note that the CBO has projected that the trust fund will run out in 2052, not 2042, and even then still have enough to pay 80% of benefits. Admittedly, it needs to be fixed, but the point being 1) there's no crisis, and 2) they're doing it again: scaring the public via lies and manipulation to achieve an end.

Better still, the American Academy of Actuaries has set up a clever web site called "The Social Security Game." It helps to put in perspective a fix to this sudden "crisis" (don't you love the way the Republicans said zilch about this looming "catastrophe" prior to this year -- how is it that with the start of 2005 the sky is falling re SS??).

As I've written a few times before, the most logical first step to a cure is to raise the qualifying age from 65. Today's equivalent age to 1950's 65 is about 74. When playing the AAA's game, I selected just two fixes: 1) Gradually increase retirement age for full benefits, and 2) Affluence Test: Reduce benefits for those whose total retirement income exceeds $50,000 per year (another logical choice). Hey, and wouldn't you know it, I received a big congrats as I solved the problem! Those two choices fix over 100% of the problem (143% to be exact) and we're not talking radical changes, but rather two steps that should be enacted anyway.

Oh, and what happens if the only choice you make is "Invest 40% of the Social Security Trust Fund in private investments such as stocks"? It fixes just 50% of the problem.

Then again, we all know those actuaries are elitist, NY Times-reading pinko lefties, right?

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