FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The New War on Social Security

by DEAN BAKER

Suppose our top generals described the growing threat from a hostile Middle East power. The country has tens of billions of oil dollars, a growing army, chemical and biological weapons, and is in the process of developing nuclear weapons. After carefully describing the risks posed by this country, our generals suggested an immediate attack on Canada. They explain that combating this Middle East country would be difficult, but defeating Canada is easy.

This is essentially the story of the latest attack on Social Security. Everyone who looks at the projections agrees; the scary budget stories being hyped in the media and by the Wall Street crew are driven almost entirely by projections of exploding health care costs. But instead of proposing ways to fix the health care system, these deficit hawks want to attack Social Security. They tell us that fixing health care is hard. By contrast they think that cutting money from Social Security will be relatively easy.

The facts on this are straightforward and known by everyone involved in the budget debate. The U.S. health care system is broken. We pay more than twice as much per person as the average for other wealthy countries.

And it is projected to get worse. In three or four decades we are projected to pay three or four times as much per person for health care as people in countries like Germany and Canada. Since more than half of our health care is paid through public sector programs like Medicare and Medicaid, this explosion in health care costs will bankrupt the government if it actually occurs. Of course it will also devastate the private sector.

On the other hand, it is easy to show that if we contain health care costs then our budget problems are relatively minor. In fact, the current projections of enormous budget deficits two or three decades out would flip over to projections of enormous budget surpluses if our health care costs were comparable to those of any other wealthy country.

Logic would dictate that our top priority should be getting our health care costs under control. But fixing health care is difficult because, as we saw in the health care debate, this means confronting the health insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the medical supply industry, highly paid medical specialists and other powerful lobbies.

The deficit hawks don’t want to fight this fight. Defeating these powerful interest groups would be a hard battle. And for the deficit hawks it would likely be an especially painful fight since these are their friends.

By contrast, the Wall Street deficit hawks don’t have friends who depend on Social Security for their income. Wall Street investment bankers like Peter Peterson and Robert Rubin are unlikely to associate with such people. This is why they see attacking Social Security as easy.

Of course attacking Social Security makes as much sense as our generals’ plan to attack Canada. The Congressional Budget Office’s projections show that the program can pay full benefits until the year 2044 with no changes whatsoever. Even after that date the program would always pay a higher benefit than what current retirees receive, even though somewhat less than the full scheduled benefits.

The long-term problem is not that anything improper has been done with the program; the reason that Social Security is projected to eventually face a shortfall is that future generations are projected to live longer than we do. This raises costs since our children and grandchildren are projected to enjoy longer retirements than we do. In short, there is no story of generational inequity here, contrary to what the Wall Street deficit hawks say.

If our deficit hawk generals are too scared to take on the health care industry then we also have to also make them too scared to take on Social Security. If we need to reduce the deficit the best place to start is a financial speculation tax. A modest set of financial transactions taxes, like the 0.5 percent tax on stock trades in the United Kingdom, can easily raise $150 billion a year. This would go a long way towards addressing future budget shortfalls and it would raise money from people who can afford it: the Wall Street crew whose financial shenanigans led to the meltdown.

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke recently suggested cutting Social Security because: “that’s where the money is.” That’s not true, the real money is on Wall Street. Let’s go get it.

DEAN BAKER is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy and False Profits: Recoverying From the Bubble Economy.

This column was originally published by The Guardian.

 

 

WORDS THAT STICK

More articles by:

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

July 26, 2017
John W. Whitehead
Policing for Profit: Jeff Sessions & Co.’s Thinly Veiled Plot to Rob Us Blind
Pete Dolack
Trump’s Re-Negotiation Proposal Will Make NAFTA Worse
George Capaccio
“Beauty of Our Weapons” in the War on Yemen
Ramzy Baroud
Fear and Trepidation in Tel Aviv: Is Israel Losing the Syrian War?
John McMurtry
Brexit Counter-Revolution Still in Motion
Ted Rall
The Democrats Are A Lost Cause
Tom Gill
Is Macron Already Faltering?
Ed Kemmick
Empty Charges Erode Trust in Montana Elections
Rev. William Alberts
Fake News? Or Fake Faith?
James Heddle
The Ethics and Politics of Nuclear Waste are Being Tested in Southern California
Binoy Kampmark
Slaying in Minneapolis: Justine Damond, Shooting Cultures and Race
Jeff Berg
Jonesing for Real Change
Jesse Jackson
The ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission Itself is Fraudulent
July 25, 2017
Paul Street
A Suggestion for Bernie: On Crimes Detectable and Not
David W. Pear
Venezuela on the Edge of Civil War
John Grant
Uruguay Tells US Drug War to Take a Hike
Charles Pierson
Like Climate Change? You’ll Love the Langevin Amendment
Linda Ford
Feminism Co-opted
Andrew Stewart
Any Regrets About Not Supporting Clinton Last Summer?
Aidan O'Brien
Painting the Irish Titanic Pink
Rob Seimetz
Attitudes Towards Pets vs Attitudes Towards the Natural World
Medea Benjamin
A Global Movement to Confront Drone Warfare
Norman Solomon
When Barbara Lee Doesn’t Speak for Me
William Hawes
What Divides America From the World (and Each Other)
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Was the “Russian Hack” an Inside Job?
Chandra Muzaffar
The Bilateral Relationship that Matters
Binoy Kampmark
John McCain: Cancer as Combatant
July 24, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
A Shameful Silence: Where is the Outrage Over the Slaughter of Civilians in Mosul?
Robert Hunziker
Extremely Nasty Climate Wake-Up
Ron Jacobs
Dylan and Woody: Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad
Dan Glazebrook
Quantitative Easing: the Most Opaque Transfer of Wealth in History
Ellen Brown
Saving Illinois: Getting More Bang for the State’s Bucks
Richard Hardigan
The Media is Misleading the Public on the Al-Asqa Mosque Situation
Matthew Stevenson
Travels in Trump’s America: Memphis, Little Rock, Fayetteville and Bentonville
Ruth Fowler
Fire at Grenfell
Ezra Kronfeld
The Rights of Sex Workers: Where is the Movement to Legalize Prostitution
Mark Weisbrot
What Venezuela Needs: Negotiation Not Regime Change
Binoy Kampmark
From Spicy to the Mooch: A Farewell to Sean Spicer
Wim Laven
Progress Report, Donald Trump: Failing
Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Kevin Zeese
Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Red State, Blue State; Green State, Deep State
Paul Street
“Inclusive Capitalism,” Nancy Pelosi, and the Dying Planet
Anthony DiMaggio
Higher Education Fallacies: What’s Behind Rising Conservative Distrust of Learning?
Andrew Levine
Why Republicans Won’t Dump Trump Anytime Soon
Michael Colby
Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail