Letter to the Editor:Social Security woes a myth

Johathan Williams

Talk of “the crisis in Social Security” and the need to “save Social Security” have become so commonplace that few people question the program’s condition. Most believe it is in trouble and that benefits won’t be there upon retirement. This is not an accident; not only have dire predictions of the program’s future served as a political football for presidential candidates seeking a “critical” issue, they have also been an excuse for those hostile to the concept of Social Security to call for changing or eliminating it. It is worthwhile to review Social Security’s status. And the truth is rather surprising. According to the projections of the Congressional Budget Office and the Social Security Trustees, Social Security will be solvent through 2034. Even at that point, with no changes whatsoever, the program will still be able to indefinitely pay inflation-adjusted benefits higher than those of today’s. These projections also indicate the changes needed to make the program fully solvent for the next 75 years are vanishingly small, amounting to, say, a 1 percent increase in Social Security taxes at some point. Compared with projected 30 percent increases in inflation-adjusted wages over the same term, this amount is trivial. Additionally, the retirement of the baby boomers will not place a financial strain on the system – by 2034, the youngest will be 70 years old. This is because the problem has already been dealt with; in 1983, the government recognized the problem and was foresighted enough to begin investing funds. Here’s the kicker: the projections use assumptions that are almost unreasonably conservative, allowing for economic growth of about 1.5 percent per year for the next 75 years. Obviously, more typical economic growth would reduce or eliminate the need to do anything whatsoever about the program. The numbers used for these projections are not in dispute among economists, so where are the claims for a coming calamity in Social Security originating? It seems that certain conservative sources have produced projections about the program’s future based upon virtually no economic growth whatsoever for the next 40 years. Clearly, these projections are not “prudent,” they are ridiculous and intended to frighten. There has been no 40-year period in the nation’s history, including depression years, over which the economy has experienced economic growth at levels these folks predict. Yet, these are the predictions upon which people such as George W. Bush are basing campaign policy proposals. The scare did not originate with him; President Clinton and others have also tried to use “saving Social Security” for political purposes. Politicians’ talk of people “raiding” Social Security funds is misleading. Social Security funds are invested in government bonds. Spending the money invested in these bonds no more “raids” the program’s funds than banks “raid” customers’ money by loaning it to others. Money spent is owed to the bondholder. There is no need for the “lockbox” on Social Security funds Al Gore called for in his presidential nomination acceptance speech. To his credit, he has at least acknowledged the program’s true financial situation, despite echoing at times the need to “save Social Security.” In an election year when we could be concentrating on real issues it is distressing to see debates over non-issues. Then again, maybe that’s the point? Jonathan Williams

Graduate student

Electrical engineering