Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Robert Samuelson Again In Deep Doo Doo On Social Security

I am late to this party, already well underway, to criticize Robert J. Samuelson for yet again wildly misrepresenting the facts about Social Security in his Sunday piece in WaPo. Dean Baker started the critique and makes most of the useful points in . He was followed by Jared Bernstein and Paul Krugman piling on as well, both linked to by Mark Thoma at .

Samuelson's new claim is that FDR would not like the current Social Security system, presumably because it is heading for being "broke" someday (eeeek!), as Samuelson periodically likes to moan and groan about. However, as he has often done in the past and is noted by all three of the above, he pulls a bait and switch, starting out with the usual grumbling over the gradually rising and well known rise of the worker-retiree ratio (likely to hit in 2025 or so the ratio Germany already has, eeeek!). Then he throws out some awful fiscal numbers, but it turns out that he has dragged in without making any serious comment on it Medicare and Medicaid expenses as well as those for Social Security, then concluding how something must be done about Social Security now! It is of course these latter two whose projected rising costs are really the problem.

It is true that the projections for SS do not look as rosy as they did some years ago prior to the Great Recession. But, even with the lower projections now, there is no clear problem until maybe in the late 2030s. Even then, assuming no fixes, the terrible thing that might happen, with Krugman picking up on something that I and Bruce Webb have been pointing out for years, is that the benefits might drop to a level that would be still well above current benefits in real terms (eeeeeek!). Krugman also makes the reasonable point we have that what Samuelson is suggesting is that future benefits should definitely be cut now, because if they are not, future benefits might get cut in the future. Yes, that is the ridiculous illogic of much of this discussion by "Serious People."

Let me add on to this two points, also floating around in the econoblogosphere. One is this matter of self-important centrism. So, people like Samuelson wish to present themselves as the late David Broder did as centrist Serious People who are between the right and the left. So, they have to find fault with programs supposedly of both sides. In many cases, particularly Samuelson's, although it has been a vice of many WaPo commentators for a long time as Dean Baker notes, they like to whomp on and on about Social Security and how we need to cut future benefits now.

The other matter that has me seriously concerned is that this renewed push by SS critics like RJS is that this coincides with the mangled and awful discussions going about the Ryan budget. Again, Krugman is right to point out that the loud centrists have seriously hung their hats on Ryan being reasonable, so that there is this unwillingness to confront the fact that his budget combines a lack of detail on just how tax loopholes are to be closed along with a lack of detail on how deep those non-defense cuts will be, although he has been declaring that they will not hurt the poor and will be no worse than welfare "reform," which has failed to help the poor at all during this Great Recession (and is also now apparently claiming that he is for all this thanks to his Catholic background, ignoring the Church's opposition to what his budget proposes). Given the need to fight all the obfuscations going on by so many to make Ryan look reasonable, it is easy for people like Samuelson to start peddling their baloney again about Social Security under the radar.

It is really frustrating how this garbage just does not seem to stop, but calling it out when it rears its ugly head is what we must continue to do.


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