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Old Folks

George Will, like many other conservatives, is positively irate that old people won't get behind the president's plan even though the president has promised not to cut their benefits. In response, it's worth noting first and foremost that senior citizens may have concerns about this subject other than naked self-interest. But on the subject of naked self-interest, it seems worth pointing out that Will and co. are almost certainly full of shit on this topic. If privatization is put in place, this will create a new, and large, financial gap in Social Security. It will also create a situation where younger voters -- everyone under 55 on privatization's Zero Hour -- no longer have a stake in defending the generosity of older people's Social Security benefits. Right now, if you're my age, your future benefits depend, in part, on what today's retirees get. Under privatization, that link will be broken. So when the shortfall starts getting big what, realistically, is going to get the ax?

I can't say for sure that it will be benefits for current retirees, but it seems likely. At the same time, current retirees have nothing to gain from the creation of private accounts (it won't apply to them), and nothing to lose from higher income taxes or higher payroll taxes (they're retired). Privatization might not have a negative impact on older Americans, but from their perspective privatization is all downside risk with no upside reward. Some younger people certainly will wind up better off under privatization than they would be otherwise (and some will lose out), but absolutely no old people will benefit, while many stand a good chance of suffering.

March 13, 2005 | Permalink

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» Where Seniors Fear to Tread from Political Animal
WHERE SENIORS FEAR TO TREAD....In the Washington Post today, George Will suggests that President Bush will win the Social Security debate as soon as seniors realize they have nothing to fear from privatization. Matt Yglesias skewers this argument nicel... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 13, 2005 5:18:33 PM

Comments

Maybe George Will's next column will tell us that Curt Flood should have support the monopsonization of baseball (reserve clauses and salary caps) since he never benefitted from the free market for players.

Posted by: pgl | Mar 13, 2005 2:24:06 PM

He goes on to say that the elderly's "proper" place is on the sidelines, as if they have no business caring about the future of their children and grandchildren. He is despicable. Like most Republicans, this Chevy Chase resident could not care less about Social Security because he doesn't need it.

Posted by: Davis | Mar 13, 2005 2:48:12 PM

Since you live in his town, why haven't you left a flaming bag of dog poo on his steps?

Posted by: jerry | Mar 13, 2005 2:59:21 PM

Well said, on a vital and oft-neglected point.

The population of "new system" stakeholders is destined to increase every election cycle, as the population of "legacy" stakeholders declines.

At some point, continued payment of the legacy benefit is made possible only by an "it's my money" generation's biennial exercise in political charity.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle | Mar 13, 2005 3:14:52 PM

"At the same time, current retirees have . . . nothing to lose from higher income taxes or higher payroll taxes (they're retired)."

Matt, FYI, retirees have to pay income taxes too, including on up to 85% of their SS benefits. So they do have something to lose.

Posted by: AF | Mar 13, 2005 4:17:02 PM

Some younger people will be better off under privatization? Did you say that, really?

I think it would be more accurate to say, "Some younger people will still be okay under privatization, but they're the same younger people who can already afford to put something aside to supplement their Social Security benefits, and are farsighted enough to do so. The rest of the younger people who are being wooed by the Bush administration will wake up one day without Social Security's guaranteed floor because the program will have been folded in the face of its enormous debts. And they'll get a belated (and painful) lesson in how dependable the stock market isn't."

Posted by: cmac | Mar 13, 2005 5:38:00 PM

They know the president probably will win the reform battle if he merely moves the elderly to their proper place on the sidelines during this debate.

But isn't Will an old folk? He should move to the sidelines. I am an old folk too, and I'm not particularly worried about SS. I'm worried about almost everything in this Bush-run America. There's a soon-coming day of reckoning with regard to health care, a growing deficit, and present and future wars to concern himself with, but he is spending 60 days of his presidency running around the country to push his SS plan which is not really a plan. I'd be crazy not to be worried.

Posted by: janeboatler | Mar 13, 2005 5:48:14 PM

"Since you live in his town, why haven't you left a flaming bag of dog poo on his steps?"

If Matt's going to get into the business of leaving flaming bags of dog poo on the steps of politically repugnant people in Washington, D.C., it seems to me that he would run into several logistical problems:

(1) Not enough dog poo. (2) Not enough matches. (3) Not enough time.

Posted by: Swopa | Mar 13, 2005 6:20:12 PM

1) If the Bush SS plan is so great, then why does he prevent us Old ones from participating? -- My guess is that he realizes that we understand the down side of Robing the system and thus is trying to side line us.

2) As was pointed out, that even if we Old ones don't care about the future of the country and the social contract, we do pay Income tax, both on our SS and on other investments and we realize that what Bush is pushing is a Tax increase in order to implement his "Risky Plan" for the richer amoung us.

Posted by: MIke Liveright | Mar 13, 2005 6:48:33 PM

George who? Is he the one that helped Nancy with the astrologer? I thought so.

I jsut received a letter from my congressperson, lying John Linder, who says if you like the current rate of return on the existing program do not change to the "voluntary" oprivate accounts. How stupid do these assholes really think we are?

Posted by: me | Mar 13, 2005 6:49:31 PM

Matt, You and I must have read two different columns.

While Will is normally screwed up on any thinking related to Social Security, his article didn't focus on the views of "Old Folks". Not once.

Your lead:

"George Will, like many other conservatives, is positively irate that old people won't get behind the president's plan even though the president has promised not to cut their benefits. In response, it's worth noting first and foremost that senior citizens may have concerns about this subject other than naked self-interest. But on the subject of naked self-interest, it seems worth pointing out that Will and co. are almost certainly full of shit on this topic."

Will's focus:

Senator Lindsey Graham's proposal. More specifically, Graham's idea to raise the current $90,000 limit on income subject to Social Security taxes.

Will's point: "Graham believes that some borrowing is appropriate to make stakeholders of future generations, which will be the biggest beneficiaries of personal accounts. But substantially reducing the borrowing would deny Democrats the ability to disguise as fiscal responsibility their opposition to personal accounts, which really is rooted in reluctance to enable people to become less dependent on government."

Will's political hook: "The tax increase from lifting the cap to $162,000 would be paid mostly by Republicans -- but also by the people most able to put substantial sums into the personal accounts that might become politically feasible only by raising the cap. There would be additional recompense for Republicans: American society would become more congruent with Republican values, and more equity-owning citizens would become disposed to vote Republican. "

Will's first mention of "Old Folks": "The Democrats' strategy of brute negativism is inherently unstable because it depends on furious hostility to the president's plan from people for whom the plan is irrelevant -- the elderly, all of whom are going to live out their lives under the current system. Because Democrats are counting on confusion among the elderly, Democrats and their media echoes are insisting that they have won the debate and that personal accounts are dead. They know the president probably will win the reform battle if he merely moves the elderly to their proper place on the sidelines during this debate."

Will's second reference to "Old Folks", sort of: "The Democrats' implausible contention is that Social Security, a response to the 1930s, needs no serious rethinking, even though in 1935 retirement, as currently understood, was largely a luxury of society's upper crust. And even though Social Security takes income from the working young who are funding family formation -- buying houses, educating children -- to subsidize, in many cases, the long-term leisure and recreation of the not-very-elderly majority of Social Security recipients who could work but choose instead to begin drawing benefits at 62. And even though the age cohort of Americans over 65 is significantly more affluent than the cohorts under 55."

The remainder of the article was directed at Republicans and Democrats, with no mention of age.

Did you read a different Will column?

Posted by: Movie Guy | Mar 13, 2005 6:59:11 PM

Will (and here) can dissemble old people all they want, but apart from self-interest, people 55 and old are concerned about their children and grand children. Most, having raised a family, are keenly aware of predators stalking their children and grand children. For all the bullshit the bushliar regime and repukelicans have thrown, seniors can easily see the wolf in sheeps clothing knocking at their children's door.

Posted by: gak | Mar 13, 2005 7:34:47 PM

I'm with Movie Guy - what's with the wholesale ignoring of Will's point? Whaddaya, practicing your "framing"?

Posted by: Caleb Wright | Mar 13, 2005 7:46:29 PM

This is link deservedly becoming a sensation in the left blogopshere.

Doug Orr - "a Ph.D economics professor at Eastern Washington University who researches labor economics, specifically pensions and Social Security" - gives a great question and answer session the Privatization plans.

http://www.spokesmanreview.com/chat/transcript.asp?id=61

Talk about raising the level of the debate.

Posted by: Elaine Lee | Mar 13, 2005 10:08:38 PM

I really appreciate blogs, because authors are able to make themselves read jerks like Will, then give the rest of us with weaker constitutions a taste of their idiocy. Thank you MY.

Posted by: masaccio | Mar 13, 2005 11:10:28 PM

Repubs won't touch the benefits for those over 55. Social Security trust fund is in a lockbox. The Alan Greenspan comission saved social security for 75 years. The last two are old lies, the first one is a new lie.
Once the young pay massive transition costs, the debt balloons, and then our private accounts fail to provide for some individuals, the sheer tax burden necessary to service the debt and prevent abject misery will necessitate the those over 55 (from YR 2005) require a benefit cut. For the good of the land. Everyone else will be getting the shaft, and so there will be a demand that even the old get it a cut. Hard times, and with a starved 'beast' of a government, everyone will need to tighten their belts.
Any talk about security for those over 55 is a lie the next repub administration will feel free to break.
The middle class accepted a tax hike on their payroll to safeguard social security. Now they are told that money has been spent, and it is unethical to raise taxes on the rich, because their money is actually the money that drives the economy (voodoo economics) and to ask them to pay their fare share would destroy the economy and send us into a great depression (scare tactics).
Maybe the oldsters understand that united, the safety net is secure, but the repubs are masters at divide and conquer for the rich (see: Bankruptcy Bill, Tort Reform, 3 huge tax breaks).
No division, we all stand secure, and the powers that be will have to find another target. Probably strictly poor people (see: recent budget), but not the poor AND the middle class.
Bottom line, the whole talk about SS is a complete breach of the promise of the Alan Greenspan reform, so any further talk is built on a foundation of lies and broken faith. Therefore it should have no moral standing and be rejected wholesale. The only acceptable outcome is higher income tax rates and a continuance of the inheritance tax (labeled the 'death tax' by the noise machine) to redeem the trust fund, as promised. That should be the floor for any reform discussion. Honor the trust fund. Or be publicly branded a liar and charlatan by all.

Posted by: Ryan | Mar 13, 2005 11:39:28 PM

Repubs won't touch the benefits for those over 55. Social Security trust fund is in a lockbox. The Alan Greenspan comission saved social security for 75 years. The last two are old lies, the first one is a new lie.
Once the young pay massive transition costs, the debt balloons, and then our private accounts fail to provide for some individuals, the sheer tax burden necessary to service the debt and prevent abject misery will necessitate the those over 55 (from YR 2005) require a benefit cut. For the good of the land. Everyone else will be getting the shaft, and so there will be a demand that even the old get it a cut. Hard times, and with a starved 'beast' of a government, everyone will need to tighten their belts.
Any talk about security for those over 55 is a lie the next repub administration will feel free to break.
The middle class accepted a tax hike on their payroll to safeguard social security. Now they are told that money has been spent, and it is unethical to raise taxes on the rich, because their money is actually the money that drives the economy (voodoo economics) and to ask them to pay their fare share would destroy the economy and send us into a great depression (scare tactics).
Maybe the oldsters understand that united, the safety net is secure, but the repubs are masters at divide and conquer for the rich (see: Bankruptcy Bill, Tort Reform, 3 huge tax breaks).
No division, we all stand secure, and the powers that be will have to find another target. Probably strictly poor people (see: recent budget), but not the poor AND the middle class.
Bottom line, the whole talk about SS is a complete breach of the promise of the Alan Greenspan reform, so any further talk is built on a foundation of lies and broken faith. Therefore it should have no moral standing and be rejected wholesale. The only acceptable outcome is higher income tax rates and a continuance of the inheritance tax (labeled the 'death tax' by the noise machine) to redeem the trust fund, as promised. That should be the floor for any reform discussion. Honor the trust fund. Or be publicly branded a liar and charlatan by all.

Posted by: Ryan | Mar 13, 2005 11:39:29 PM

"If Matt's going to get into the business of leaving flaming bags of dog poo on the steps of politically repugnant people in Washington, D.C., it seems to me that he would run into several logistical problems"

It's very simple, really. Get your flaming dog poo published as a syndicated column, like Will, and newspapers all over the country will deliver it to people's steps without much further effort on your part.

Posted by: rea | Mar 14, 2005 9:17:26 AM

The belief that younger people will be better off has been put out there like it is gospel. I think the extra interest on the debt needs to be added into the mix before a projected return is calculated. With low current interest rates, our debt service is still about 20% of federal revenues. What will happen when debt and interest rates go up?

And, "me", ask John "Fair Tax" Linder why we would want to pay a 30% sales tax on the promised tax free money we will be drawing out of our Roth IRA's. Talk about a plan to screw us old people.

Posted by: ted | Mar 14, 2005 9:25:36 AM

If I borrow a ton of money and then invest it, and if I ignore my debt from the borrowing, then of course I'll be better off.

Posted by: Tripp | Mar 14, 2005 11:41:52 AM

AF -- Income taxation recaptures 5.2% of retirement/survivor benefits (or a correspondingly smaller percentage if we include disability and Medicare benefits in the denominator). [2004 OASDI Trustees Report, Tbl III.A.1, and HI/SMI Trustees Report, II.B.1]

Posted by: RonK, Seattle | Mar 14, 2005 4:05:57 PM

Elaine Lee

"This is link deservedly becoming a sensation in the left blogopshere.

Doug Orr - "a Ph.D economics professor at Eastern Washington University who researches labor economics, specifically pensions and Social Security" - gives a great question and answer session the Privatization plans.

http://www.spokesmanreview.com/chat/transcript.asp?id=61

Talk about raising the level of the debate."


Great interview.

Doug Orr is good guy. He also wrote an excellent Social Security/Greenspan article for the Nov/Dec issue of Dollars & Sense, available online.

Posted by: Movie Guy | Mar 14, 2005 4:42:29 PM

"Will (and here) can dissemble old people all they want, but apart from self-interest, people 55 and old are concerned about their children and grand children."

Is that why they keep taking 15% of their children's and grandchildren's pay? And turn out to vote like crazy against anyone that suggests restraining the growth of those Social Security checks?

Doesn't sound like tender concern for the children and grandchildren to me.


Most, having raised a family, are keenly aware of predators stalking their children and grand children."

Posted by: Ken | Mar 15, 2005 5:20:21 PM

Movie Guy wrote: "Matt, You and I must have read two different columns."

The sentence that Matt addressed was the one that stood out from the rest of Will's column. "Bush probably will win the reform battle if he merely moves the elderly to their proper place on the sidelines during this debate." The implication is that it is wrong, improper, for the elderly to care about the long term welfare of the country rather than about their own narrow financial interests. It's one thing for Republicans to embrace selfishness; it takes things to a whole new level when they start attacking broad classes of people for not being selfish enough.

Of course, Matt has a more subtile point--the elderly actually do have a financial stake in the debate, despite Bush's claims to the contrary. So what Will is really saying is that the elderly ought to ignore the national good when they don't perceive that their narrow self interest is at stack, and in addition, ought to be sufficiently dumb or uninformed that they don't recognize when their self interest is at stake. This is basicly the case of a con man complaining that the marks aren't gullible enough.

The passage you quote to summarize Will's main point describes Graham's plan (without commenting on whether it is good policy--a question that doesn't seem to concern George Will), and veers off into an ad homenim attack on Democrats. That hardly strikes me as the most compelling material. George Will's candor (or, possibly, misstatement) about what he views as the "proper role" of the elderly is the only thing that made his column worth linking to.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist | Mar 15, 2005 7:49:29 PM

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