links for 2009-05-25
Henry Farrell Reads Clive Crook, and Pounds His Head Against the Wall...

Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Watch (Robert Samuelson Edition)

Jesus weeps every day that the Washington Post prints another edition.


Obsidian Wings: Robert Samuelson's Dishonest Jihad Against Social Security: If the country ever gets around to ending life tenure for Supreme Court Justices, I hope we add a provision ending it for Washington Post columnists too.  Or at least ending it for Robert Samuelson.  Today, again, we see another extremely misleading op-ed from him on the fiscal health of Social Security. Here’s a good rule of thumb – anytime you see an op-ed whining about entitlements that uses the phrase “Medicare and Social Security,” it’s safe to stop reading.... To lump Social Security together with the more problematic Medicare shortfall (which should be addressed through national health care reform) is blatantly misleading.  It’s like saying the combination of a Big Mac and a jelly bean is an extremely high-calorie meal. But that’s exactly what Samuelson is doing.  In fact, Michael Lind had a Salon column a while back outlining all the rhetorical tricks that dishonest Social Security skeptics make.  It’s as if Samuelson read that column, and decided to use them all.

For instance, here’s Lind:

In order to frighten gullible Americans, anti-Social Security crusaders conflate Social Security with Medicare and talk about the "entitlement crisis" in general. This masks the fact that Social Security's projected shortfalls are minor, compared to those of Medicare.

And Samuelson:

It's increasingly obvious that Congress and the president (regardless of the party in power) will deal with the political stink bomb of an aging society only if forced. And the most plausible means of compulsion would be for Social Security and Medicare to go bankrupt.

And Lind:

About a decade ago, conservative and libertarian economists who oppose Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements came up with a clever rhetorical strategy. They would calculate the gap between the payroll taxes that pay for these programs and estimated costs over time. But there was one problem: The gap isn't all that scary, at least in the near future. So in order to frighten the American people and their elected leaders, deficit hawks cite the sum total of Social Security's "unfunded liabilities" over 75 years. But even this -- a paltry $4.3 trillion over three-quarters of a century, according to the 2008 report -- isn't sufficiently terrifying.  [So they combine Medicare and SS].  [This] produces a suitably spooky 75-year shortfall of $42.9 trillion. And if this is not alarming enough, deficit hawks can cite the truly apocalyptic figure of $101.7 trillion in combined "entitlement" spending over an infinite time horizon. The anti-Social Security lobby always presents the "unfunded liabilities" of "entitlements" in scary dollar terms, rather than as percentage points of GDP. Here's why: Over the next 75 years, the Social Security shortfall at most hovers around 1 percent of total U.S. GDP over that same period.

And Samuelson:

That the programs will ultimately go bankrupt is clear from the trustees' reports. On Pages 201 and 202 of the Medicare report, you will find the conclusive arithmetic: Over the next 75 years, Social Security and Medicare will cost an estimated $103.2 trillion, while dedicated taxes and premiums will total only $57.4 trillion. The gap is $45.8 trillion. (All figures are converted to "today's dollars.")