The Sooner the Washington Post Goes Out of Business, the Safer the Elderly Will Be

Ordinarily, I would put this in the links round-up, but this post by Dean Baker eviscerating a Washington Post story about Social Security is worth highlighting. The entire Post story is, well, wrong, but here’s one part:

The basic premise of the story, as expressed in the headline (“the debt fallout: how Social Security went ‘cash negative’ earlier than expected) and the first paragraph (“Last year, as a debate over the runaway national debt gathered steam in Washington, Social Security passed a treacherous milestone. It went ‘cash negative.'”) is that Social Security faces some sort of crisis because it is paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes. [The “runaway national debt is also a Washington Post invention. The deficits have soared in recent years because of the economic downturn following the collapse of the housing bubble. No responsible newspaper would discuss this as problem of the budget as opposed to a problem with a horribly underemployed economy.]

This “treacherous milestone” is entirely the Post’s invention, it has absolutely nothing to do with the law that governs Social Security benefit payments. Under the law, as long as their is money in the trust fund, then Social Security is able to pay full benefiits. There is literally no other possible interpretation of the law.

As the article notes the trust fund currently holds $2.6 trillion in government bonds, so it is nowhere close to being unable to pay benefits. The whole point of building up the trust fund was to help cover costs at a future date when taxes would not be sufficient to cover full benefits. Rather than posing any sort of crisis, this is exactly what had been planned when Congress last made major changes to the program in 1983 based on the recommendations of the Greenspan commission.

Sadly, The Post’s propaganda leads to the internalization of the Social Security non-crisis:

Last week I polled my mostly-undergraduate policy design class at Berkeley as follows:

A. Social Security is in very serious financial trouble and probably won’t be there for my parents

B. Social Security is in financial trouble and probably won’t be there for me

C. Social Security is basically OK and just needs some minor adjustments.

The results were 66% B, 16% each A and C. This is a level of misinformation in an educated population that puts the capacity of democratic governance in doubt, and raises serious questions about whether mainline media are playing straight with us.

As Kevin Drum notes, there are very simple, minor fixes to the non-crisis. And those might even be necessary due to consistently pessimistic and unrealistic estimates.

New media overlords, please.

Related: Washington Post reporter Lori Montgomery digs the hole even deeper.

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