Saturday, July 02, 2005

Social Security: it it about Solvency or about Ayn Rand?

It was an odd moment. I was riding in the elevator with the Chair of my County's Democratic Party and he thanked me for my website. Taken aback I asked how he had stumbled on it and he said that people had been passing it around. So maybe it is time for me to give some sort of introduction.

This site is all about the numbers. You get links to every Social Security Report from 1942 to 2005, you get breakouts to particular tables from all Reports from 1997 to 2005, you get some explications of what those tables mean. The numbers are important, if you are going to participate in the debate over the future of Social Security you need to understand them, you need to understand their implications, you need to be able to measure them against the numbers you read in the paper every day. Because oddly enough this debate is not about numbers and in most respects it never has been.

A certain portion of the Republican Party has always hated Social Security on principle. You see it most starkly in some of the novels of Ayn Rand, but from Alf Landon to Grover Norquist large portions of the Right simply despise the very idea of collective social responsibility. They disguise it in many fashions, the current version is "The Ownership Society", but it really boils down to "I got mine, and screw Grandma Millie" (Enron- the gift that keeps giving).

Advocates of private accounts, with a few exceptions, don't care about retirement security for lower income workers. They just don't. They want to kill Social Security and with it wipe out the New Deal. They are not even particularly secretive about this, a little Googling on Grover Norquist or the Cato Instistute will open some eyes. They want to wipe the legacy of FDR right out, they want to set the clock back to McKinley and Hanna in 1898.

To most Americans this must seem like over the top hyperbole, but the Norquists, Roves and Gingriches of this world are dead serious. They not only want to repeal the entire legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, they fully intend to erase the Trust Busting legacy of Teddy Roosevelt. From a legislative point of view they would simply wipe the 20th century off the table as if it had never existed.

Social Security is target one. But it is wildly popular, taking it on head on was in practical political terms impossible, it was deemed the Third Rail of American Politics for a reason. So in 1983 the Right decided to attack it at its weakest point. The impending retirement of Baby Boomers would put considerable strain on the system, even the reforms of the 1983 Act could only defer the challenge. So the Cato Institute took that challenge head on, they confronted Solvency and cheerfully concluded "Can't happen" and so started selling private accounts and phase out as alternatives. They didn't try to advance the ideological case, they just pushed "bankruptcy".

But unfortunately the numbers bit back. The original entry point to this site is Social Security is not broke: by the numbers You don't have to buy into my political spin, but you should know the numbers in play. Hmm, Table V.B1.