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Old 04-06-2005, 1:55 PM
David David is offline
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Default The Economic "Death Spiral"

This is not great news. Kicking the can down the road on Social Security and Medicare is a disaster in the making. This should not be a Lib-Cons battle. It must be dealt with. Wash Post
SOURCE
Economic Death Spiral

By Robert J. Samuelson

Wednesday, April 6, 2005; Page A19

The great danger of an aging society is that the rising costs of government retirement programs -- mainly Social Security and Medicare -- increase taxes or budget deficits so much that they reduce economic growth. This could trigger an economic and political death spiral. Our commitments to pay retirement benefits grow while our capacity to meet them shrinks. Workers and retirees battle over a relatively fixed economic pie. The debate we're not having is how to avoid this dismal future. President Bush's vague Social Security proposal, including "personal accounts," sidesteps the critical issues. His noisiest critics are equally silent.

Just recently the trustees of Social Security and Medicare issued their annual reports on the programs' futures. Here's one startling fact that emerges from a close examination of the reports: By 2030 the projected costs of Social Security and Medicare could easily consume -- via higher taxes -- a third of workers' future wage and salary increases. Toss in Medicaid (which covers nursing home care and isn't included in the trustees' reports) and the bite grows. We're mortgaging workers' future pay gains for baby boomers' retirement benefits.

The facts are hiding in plain sight. The trustees' reports project Social Security and Medicare spending. They also estimate future wages and salaries -- the main tax base for Social Security and Medicare. Comparing the two shows how much retirement costs may erode wage increases. The reports should make and highlight this calculation, but they don't. So I asked economists Tom Saving of Texas A&M University and Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute to do it. They provided similar results.

Here are the basic numbers, as calculated by Elizabeth Bell, a research assistant to Steuerle. In 2005 Social Security and Medicare are expected to cost $822 billion (that's net of premiums paid by recipients); by 2030 the costs are projected to increase to $4.640 trillion. That's an increase of $3.818 trillion. Over the same period, annual wages and salaries are projected to rise from $5.856 trillion to $17.702 trillion -- an increase of $11.846 trillion. Despite the big numbers, the arithmetic is straightforward: The increases in Social Security and Medicare represent 32 percent of the increases in wages and salaries.

This matters because Social Security and Medicare (and Medicaid, too) are pay-as-you-go programs. Current taxpayers pay current benefits. Future taxpayers -- mainly future workers -- will pay future benefits. Baby boomers' retirement benefits will come mostly from their children and grandchildren, who will be tomorrow's workers. Even if adopted, President Bush's personal accounts for Social Security would hardly alter that. (They wouldn't change Medicare and Medicaid and would only slightly affect boomers' Social Security benefits.)

Consequently, baby boomers' children and grandchildren face massive tax increases. Social Security and Medicare spending now equals 14 percent of wage and salary income, reports Bell. By 2030, using the trustees' various projections, that jumps to 26 percent. Of course, payroll taxes don't cover all the costs of Social Security and Medicare. Still, these figures provide a crude indicator of the economic burden, because costs are imposed heavily on workers via some tax (including the income tax), government borrowing (a.k.a. the deficit) and cuts in other government programs.

It can be argued that the costs are bearable. The wage gains in the trustees' reports could prove too pessimistic. Like all forecasts, they're subject to errors. Even if they come true, they assume that tomorrow's wages will be higher than today's. Productivity increases; wages rise. In 2030, under the trustees' "intermediate" assumptions, workers' before-tax incomes would be about a third higher than now, says Saving. What's the gripe if workers lost -- through steeper taxes -- some of that? Why shouldn't they generously support parents and grandparents? Well, maybe they will. But there are at least two possible flaws in this logic.

The first is that, on a year-to-year basis, wage gains would be tiny -- less than 1 percent. When they've gotten that low before, people have complained that they're "on a treadmill" and that the American dream has been repealed. Even these gains might be diluted by further tax increases to trim today's already swollen budget deficits. The second and more serious threat is that higher taxes would harm the economy. They might dull economic vitality by reducing investment and the rewards for work and risk-taking. Productivity and wage gains might be smaller than predicted. Then we'd flirt with that death spiral: We'd need still-higher taxes to pay benefits, but those taxes might depress economic growth more.

One way or another, workers may get fed up paying so much of their paychecks to support retirees, many of whom (they would notice) were living quite comfortably. Because the dangers are so obvious, we ought to be minimizing them now. We ought to redefine the generational compact to lighten -- somewhat -- the burden of an aging population on workers. The needed steps are clear: to acknowledge longer life expectancies by slowly raising eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare; to limit future spending by curbing retirement benefits for the better-off; to keep people in the productive economy longer by encouraging jobs that mix "work" and "retirement."

All advanced societies face a similar problem: how to support more retirees with (relatively) fewer workers. But we won't engage it. Politicians, the media and public "intellectuals" of all political stripes refuse to acknowledge generational conflicts and the need to make choices, some possibly unpopular. Let someone else make them, years from now when (of course) they will be much tougher.
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Old 04-06-2005, 5:46 PM
Tioga Joe Tioga Joe is offline
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Here's an interesting History of Social Security:
http://www.ssa.gov/history/pdf/briefhistory2000.pdf

It's not what I was looking for, and of course coming from ssa.gov its tone is all cheery and positive. I was actually looking for a history of all the patchwork fixes that have been applied - you know, the blue ribbon commissions culminating in Rose Garden ceremonies which proclaim Social Security to be guaranteed financially sound through the year 2525.

As for Medicare, let's learn from the failed experiment. If the government can't get it right for the elderly population, we are just plain nuts to try to have the government run 100% of the health care system.

One scenario I've heard is that politicians will attempt to tax private retirement savings, like a property tax levied against your 401K. Far-fetched? Class envy is an oft-played card.
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Old 04-06-2005, 5:52 PM
Tioga Joe Tioga Joe is offline
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This Asay cartoon explains the Social Security fraud so well.
(attachment to this post - if it doesn't disappear like my "No Tube for You!" did)
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Old 04-08-2005, 12:36 AM
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Old 04-08-2005, 8:42 AM
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There ya go, folks! See(ha ha), the pointy-headed guy is telling the incredibly disparaging caricature of President Bush how "the facts" are some vague "other thing". Tee-hee. Funny pictures, funny funny pictures.

Hard times for the once clever Left, reduced now to kindergarten art.
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Old 04-08-2005, 8:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dcannady
There ya go, folks! See(ha ha), the pointy-headed guy is telling the incredibly disparaging caricature of President Bush how "the facts" are some vague "other thing". Tee-hee. Funny pictures, funny funny pictures.

Hard times for the once clever Left, reduced now to kindergarten art.
Look at the polls dc. Where is Bush's so called political capital on this issue? Besides, Bush has admitted that privatization would not help solvency of SS. Any problems that SS may have down the road are mathematical in nature and can be solved without privatization.
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Old 04-08-2005, 9:36 AM
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Look at the polls dc.
As if I don't?

Quote:
Where is Bush's so called political capital on this issue?
What the hell does that have to do with anything? Do you suggest that, if a majority of Americans demand it, we should drive off into the ditch?

You are a real puzzlement to me, pb. You are a strong advocate of the generic political ideas of the Democrat Party, but seem to have no personal rationale. You seem so shallow. You paste articles and you making sniping remarks, but your personal depth seems to be paper thin.

What is it that motivates you to discuss politics, pb? What is your ideological center? You seem to think that only you read the information that you use to form your opinions, as if, once read, would have a transformative effect on our thinking.

Articles and funny picture cartoons are not a substitute for thought, they merely fill the void created by the absence of it.
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Old 04-08-2005, 10:12 AM
NetGear NetGear is offline
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... and, pb could not care less about the long term health of Social Security. All he's concerned about is that his checks don't change while he's alive. Typical of the loving left.

Take all of pb's comments about the SS/privatization debate, roll them all up into one very huge booger, and that's what you have; dripping with egocentrism.
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Old 04-08-2005, 10:48 AM
pbrauer pbrauer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dcannady
Quote:
Where is Bush's so called political capital on this issue?

What the hell does that have to do with anything? Do you suggest that, if a majority of Americans demand it, we should drive off into the ditch?
Shortly after Bush won the electorial vote in January, he said he had political capital and he was going to spend it. He then came out and started talking about his plan for SS even though he did very little campaigning, if any, on SS reporm.


Quote:
Originally Posted by dcannady
Articles and funny picture cartoons are not a substitute for thought, they merely fill the void created by the absence of it.
Political cartoons have a long established tradition that is not limited to the left. BTW, I don't see you criticizing Tioga Joe's cartoon. Gee, I wonder why.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Netgear
... and, pb could not care less about the long term health of Social Security. All he's concerned about is that his checks don't change while he's alive. Typical of the loving left.

Take all of pb's comments about the SS/privatization debate, roll them all up into one very huge booger, and that's what you have; dripping with egocentrism.
Very typical comments from you Net. I'm not surprized.
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Old 04-08-2005, 10:49 AM
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Very typical comments from you Net. I'm not surprized.
Yeah, they're dead-on! (lol)
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Old 04-08-2005, 11:29 AM
NetGear NetGear is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pbrauer
Besides, Bush has admitted that privatization would not help solvency of SS.
That is not true. President Bush has only said (alluded to) that privatization alone will not be a solution.
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Old 04-08-2005, 11:33 AM
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BTW, I don't see you criticizing Tioga Joe's cartoon. Gee, I wonder why.
The cartoon posted by Tioga Joe has substance, it doesn't rely on childish insulting depictions and it represents a factual conditon that should give anyone pause to wonder why the situation is endured.

Your cartoon relies on childish denigration and misrepresentation of complex issues. Small wonder that you can't distinguish between the two, but I've already addressed that.
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