Monday, April 25, 2005

Freedom, Responsibility ... and What? Social Security Reform - An Explanation

Social Security funding, as a plot device, makes for a languidly paced political thriller. The president discovers a ticking time bomb that's been sitting in plain view for seventy years. It must be disarmed, either with mildly risky partial privatization or with somewhat hazardous tax and benefit adjustments. Cut the blue-state wire? Cut the red-state wire? Only thirteen years to decide before Social Security starts paying out more than it takes in. Or thirty-seven years, if you wait until the accumulated surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund runs out. Then the damp squib goes off, giving ever querulous Generation X something else to complain about.

The pundits who deny that the crisis exists are as shrill as the prophets of doom. The liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman claims, "The people who hustled America into a tax cut to eliminate an imaginary budget surplus and a war to eliminate imaginary weapons are now trying another bum's rush. If they succeed, we will dismantle Social Security, a program that is in much better financial shape than the rest of the federal government."

In thirteen years every aspect of the universe can change — ask a thirteen-year-old. And "much better financial shape than the rest of the federal government" is hardly a reassuring statement. But the political side-taking on reforming Social Security is suddenly, urgently bitter. Maybe this is a sign of health (not to mention longevity) in our democratic system. Politics is — once in a while — a forum for serious debate about political philosophy.

The disputation so far ... Continue here [Cato Institute, 25 April 2005]