Sanity watch: Enabling the crazy!

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2012

First, you snark: In this morning’s column, Paul Krugman asks a hugely important question.

It may be the most important question in all of American politics. The question he asks has been that important for several decades now.

He asks a very important question—but it’s also a sensitive question. We’ll include the way he frames the question, and the bulk of his answer:
KRUGMAN (2/13/12): How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality? For it was not always thus. After all, that health reform Mr. Romney wants us to forget followed a blueprint originally laid out at the Heritage Foundation!

My short answer is that the long-running con game of economic conservatives and the wealthy supporters they serve finally went bad. For decades the G.O.P. has won elections by appealing to social and racial divisions, only to turn after each victory to deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy—a process that reached its epitome when George W. Bush won re-election by posing as America’s defender against gay married terrorists, then announced that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security.

Over time, however, this strategy created a base that really believed in all the hokum—and now the party elite has lost control.
Krugman is asking a very important question; it may be the most important question in all of American politics. In principal, we agree with his answer—although his answer is very limited, and in some ways it borders on wrong. (In Campaign 2000, Candidate Bush ran very strongly and very openly on a pledge to privatize Social Security. This part of his platform was strongly supported all through the press corps, and it polled quite well.)

Krugman’s question is hugely important—and by far, he has been our smartest and most valuable player at the top end of the press corps. That’s why we think it’s so unfortunate that he started this important column in the way he did. Especially considering the source, what follows is almost as dumb as the well-packaged hokum conservative voters have internalized over the past forty years:
KRUGMAN: Mitt Romney has a gift for words—self-destructive words. On Friday he did it again, telling the Conservative Political Action Conference that he was a “severely conservative governor.”

As Molly Ball of The Atlantic pointed out, Mr. Romney “described conservatism as if it were a disease.”
Indeed. Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, provided a list of words that most commonly follow the adverb “severely”; the top five, in frequency of use, are disabled, depressed, ill, limited and injured.

That’s clearly not what Mr. Romney meant to convey. Yet if you look at the race for the G.O.P. presidential nomination, you have to wonder whether it was a Freudian slip. For something has clearly gone very wrong with modern American conservatism.
We’re sorry to tell you, but that’s just dumb. It’s dumb on the substance. On the politics, it’s may be worse.

Mitt Romney has flubbed again—or at least, our smartest player is willing to pretend that he has! He’s willing to waste his time quoting Ball, engaging in the micro-nitpicking which sends thrills up liberal legs. He’s willing to cite a linguistics professor who ought to return to his dry-as-dust lectures. He’s even willing to walk in the realm of Dowd, toying with Freudian slips.

In fairness, he’s isn’t discussing Mitt Romney’s pet dog and how he got on the roof of that car. But in this silly, snark-laden open, he comes depressingly close.

What's wrong with starting a column with three paragraphs of silly dumb shit? Many things are wrong with that tack, if you want to attain a world in which voters don’t believe all that hokum—and by the way, the hokum was running strong on the liberal web in response to last Friday’s “accommodation” to the bishops. We had planned to review a fiery, hokum-laden blog post on that very subject, until Krugman’s important column about the other side's hokum surpassed it. (We’ll look at that blog post tomorrow.)

What’s wrong with Krugman’s snark, which he extends through the meat of his column? (See paragraphs 6, 8, 9, 13.) We’ll offer two quick thoughts:

When you open a column with snark of that type, you’re inviting large swaths of the public to pay no attention to anything which follows. You also burn away 15 percent of your limited space. You leave yourself that much less time to support your central claim, which is hugely important—although it’s a sensitive claim.

Do modern conservative voters believe a big pile of “hokum?” We’d have to say that they do. Do “fantasies and fabrications” appeal to the conservative base? We’d have to say that’s accurate too. But within our democratic traditions, these are very sensitive claims, claims which have to be strongly supported if you want to advance them outside the tribe. Krugman burned up so much of his column with snark that he gave few examples of this hokum—and we'd say that some of his examples were chosen somewhat strangely.

Over the weekend, we were struck by the relentless lunacy expressed at the CPAC convention. A modern nation simply can’t function when tens of millions of its citizens believe so many crazy things.

But the hokum is spreading through our vineyards too, and the snark is helping it spread. Tomorrow, we’ll return to Krugman’s column, noting how poorly and weakly he explains the source of the conservative hokum. And we’ll look at that other blog post, where the hokum ran wild on our side.

Krugman’s question is hugely important. His answer is plainly correct—although we'd say his answer was very limited and was sometimes almost wrong. Why would you start by spreading the snark, by burning up words, when your basic point is so plainly correct and so hugely important?

First, you snark! But here's a question: Does that enable the crazy?

44 comments:

  1. They're coming.

    The liberals are coming -- to say, "Don't criticize Krugman. His style doesn't matter -- the hokum-hooked right won't hear him no matter what. So let him please us with his snarky riffs, wont you?"

    And David-in-CA is coming -- to say, good points, Bob. (Yes, even a stopped clock in California can be right sometimes.)

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    1. That is, before David in Cal starts whinging on about the US turning into Greece, spending out of control, the exploding debt, Social Security going bankrupt, and all the other nonsense he hears on Fox News and believes as if it's the Holy Gospel.

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  2. A recent experience of mine. I picked up an old book of essays by a famous economist being discarded by the library. As I dipped in, I found the several economic pieces filled with good plain spoken, well made points. Some were obsolete but all were sensible. Then I read a piece on the anti-communist actions the US was engaged in at the time and it was (following your analysis of Paul Krugman's column) snark-filled. I would also describe it as "these-statements-are-so-obviously-true-they-don't-need-justification" and "people-who-don't-see-this-are-hopeless-idiots." Anyway, the helpless rage I use to feel in my conservative days came back to me in force. It also let me see (again) why the labeling of the liberals as elitist resonates so well with the right.

    More generally, I think you are onto a fundamental problem here--the tribalization of the left and I suspect that in general it is the principal way in which the "movement" dies in movements.

    Keep up the good work.

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    1. @afouts

      "It also let me see (again) why the labeling of the liberals as elitist resonates so well with the right."

      Given the level of scorn, vitriol, mockery and outright libel directed at Democrats -- and not just by the Limbaugh types, but by "mainstream" Republicans, including the presidential contenders -- it's hard to see why the comparatively mild and ineffective Democratic version is is so distressing to some self-described liberals.

      You don't, for example, see Krugman accusing Romney of murder or polygamy, of being a traitor, of hating America, of being a Mexican, or embracing neo-fascism (though this latter aspersion does have some basis in reality). But that kind of rhetoric on the right is commonplace, and has been for years.

      The case being made, apparently, is that a liberal sneer is worse than a right-wing calumny.

      Or we could look at it another way: as no less than David Frum has noted, populist fury in America is directed not against the wealthy, but against the educated. Which does make some sense. Consider what kind of culture privileges a Donald Trump, but regards science with suspicion.

      Now, one could still make the argument that Democrats are exceedingly stupid in their approach to the public -- that, for example, a large portion of the population does indeed vote its racist inclinations, but shouting "racist!" at every possible occasion won't win many votes.

      On the other hand, Democrats are in an impossible position: they get their money from the same sources as the Repubs. They can't, on major issues of our times, counter lies with the truth, because the truth would kill their funding. So what we get are half-truths and sneering.

      It's unfortunate, but by no means clear that there's much of an alternative, given the policy limits within which the Democratic party operates.

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    2. You don't, for example, see Krugman accusing Romney of murder or polygamy, of being a traitor, of hating America, of being a Mexican, or embracing neo-fascism (though this latter aspersion does have some basis in reality). But that kind of rhetoric on the right is commonplace, and has been for years.

      The case being made, apparently, is that a liberal sneer is worse than a right-wing calumny.


      Krugman might not, but I shudder to think of the stuff that other liberal writers will come up with if Romney is the nominee.

      As to the second point, a lot of people are put off by liberal superiority, and they aren't just conservatives. If you want to reach such people, like people who have some conservative positions, then you might want to try a different track.

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    3. Anonymous, you are over-generalizing my "rage" statement. I took myself to be a conservative at the time I was talking about. But I like seeing the points you and hardindr make. But my real point is on the "tribalization" phenomenon, which I think is real and very damaging and should be kept very much in mind, tactically speaking. In the era I was writing about the conservatives were my "tribe." I classify myself now more as the enemy of your enemy. To be blunt (and hopefully too extreme) I think the current Republican party and conservative movement, is loaded with psychopathic elements, frauds and straight-out crooks. The only conservative writer I can tolerate anymore is Peter Hitchens in Britain. I suspect there are more but who can stand to wade through the sewers to find them?

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    4. @ Afouts - you remind me of what I tend to read quite often at the Daily Howler. Do you visit that site?

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    5. Note: please take the above with a grain of humor.

      Same Anonymous as before.

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  3. Disappointing and surprising to see Krugman play the flub chaser.

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  4. I had other problems with Krugman's article. To wit: how can you call them crazy and stupid when THEY JUST KEEP WINNING?

    They own the House. Intrade gives them a 75% chance of adding the Senate in 2012. Obama spent most of his administration kow-towing to their ideas; even his GREAT ACHIEVEMENT, which we are all supposed to speak about in hushed and reverent tones, the healthcare bill, is a conservative retread from Heritage. So if they are crazy and stupid, why is it that they own the field?

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    1. Simple, that's where the real money is. There's no money in liberalism.

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  5. "So if they are crazy and stupid, why is it that they own the field?"

    You're failing to distinguish between Republican voters, many of whom are, if not crazy and stupid, massively misinformed and unreachable, from the Republican establishment which until now (and this was Krugman's point) have sold the Republican base "crazy and stupid" to get votes, but had other priorities -- namely, tax-cuts and deregulation.

    And if you want to know why they win, the answer is pretty simple: overwhelmingly in American politics, the side with the most money does win. You'd think this simple fact would inform our political debates, including here at the Howler, but you'd be mistaken. Some are so exercised by what they deem the errors of others that they want to attribute reality to imaginary causes.

    Liberals cannot convert "conservatives" with nice rhetoric. Anyone who actually listens to "conservatives" knows as much. The sooner we accept that fact, the easier it will go.

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    1. A great New York Times article on the "massively misinformed," but perhaps not unreachable Republican voters:

      New York Times: "Even critics of safety net increasingly depend on it"

      The part is when the reporter politely asks the people on government programs if they support tax increases (to support them), to which they say no, and when she asks them what they would do without the programs. Several have no answer or go blank.

      Also:

      Alternet.org: "Conservatism thrives on low intelligence and poor information"

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  6. How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality?

    I thought Bruce Bartlett on Bill Moyers this past weekend came up with some interesting thoughts on this subject.

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  7. It's the Daily Howler who is a little lame here. Do I understand Somersby to say certain words do not have certain connotations? Billions are spent in the advertising and PR industries every year in violation of that dubious notion. This isn't the most profound thing Krugman has ever written, but it's speculation, and that's what an opinion column is for (not to report untruths, as often happens). Given Romney's political career is it beyond the pale to imagine he might not know that the "severe" conservatism is actually a negative thing? You might say yes or no, but in either case Krugman is speculating and is forthcoming about the "shit" ( we can also draw certain connotations from about a writer who wants to be taken seriously but has now sunk to routine profanity) he is writing.
    Meanwhile a certain Fox News regular said last week he can prove Obama didn't want to catch Bin Laden. But with the Daily Howler now focused 80 percent on Krugman, MSNBC, and Mo Dowd, I guess there just wasn't time for it. This is the kind of emphasis that has worked wonders for our side over the years.

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    1. "we can also draw certain connotations from about a writer who wants to be taken seriously but has now sunk to routine profanity"

      That's actually funny, since you could very well say the same about an indignant commenter who can't even get the name of guy whose blog it is right.

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    2. Sorry about the extra s gyrfalcon, but you should wait until you have something to say about the topic at hand. Indeed, mine was the rare post that actually responded directly to what Somerby had written. But, I guess you like your cussing...

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    3. Greg, the over/under was 21 before some moron offered a spelling/grammar 'correction' as a meaningful rebuke.

      At this point I am somewhat embarrassed to admit I read this blog for nostalgic sake. Used to really enjoy it. Now i think I am enabling him.

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  8. When you call the other side "irrational", it means that you have no valid arguments and so have been reduced to to ad hominem attacks. Krugman implied that what he calls Bush's "Social Security privatization" is irrational. (At least, I think he did. Krugman's column is somewhat ambiguous on this point. Also, "privatization" is a tendentious description of Bush's proposal.)

    IMHO Bush's proposal had various pro's and con's. However, it's rationality is proved by the fact that a similar plan has been working in Chile for a number of years.

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    1. "We are all Chileans now", as John McCain famously said.

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    2. Chile has one of the highest degrees of inequality in the world, and its growth has been based mostly on unsustainable exploitation of its natural resources. Furthermore, it took a military dictatorship to force neo-liberal economic policies on the populace. You choose a very ugly example to demonstrate your argument. http://www.citizen.org/documents/chilealternatives.pdf

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    3. The "similar plan" David refers to was established by Pinochet during Chile's dictatorship years, and rather remarkably excludes the two most powerful worker sectors under his regime -- the military and the police, who to this day are under the traditional SS system (the one like ours, with the safety of a government guarantee, and free of the high administrative fees which eat away at the privatized pensions).

      Meanwhile, very few Chilean workers are able to fund their private accounts at significant enough levels to sustain any kind of retirement, which means the government will have to pick up the slack. And there's relatively low worker participation generally (closer to 50%, than the 100% we have here). The government also indemnifies workers against the losses of the financial institutions (the same ones which gauge workers with high fees). And there are minimum government guarantees, which again creates liability, particularly in the event of a market-downturn.

      To date, the government has already had to step in, more than once, to bailout the private accounts, thanks to market losses.

      By the way, the creator of this system is very gainfully employed by the Cato Institute (American propagandists pay a hell of a lot better than do Chilean ones), to spread the gospel on this one.

      Finally, there's nothing tendentious about "privatization". It was the term "conservatives" originally proposed. They rejected it only when folks began to realize what it actually meant.

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    4. Who cares what kind of system private accounts came from? Workers' Compensation was originated by the Kaiser in pre-WWI Germany. Should we not offer WC benefits on that account?

      Regardless of how Chile came to select this particular version of SS, the fact is that it works.

      Can you imagine a world where a Nobel-prize-winning economist writing for the country's leading newspaper, who, when discussing a particular policy, gave a dispassionate account of the pro's and con's and explained why he came down on one side or the other. it would be wonderful. His readers would learn economic principles and economic reasoning.

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    5. David in Cal, the Chilean system does not work. The Chilean government has had to step in repeatedly to make up for workers who could not save enough. What don't you get about this? Just because you hear something on a right-wing site doesn't make it right or make the rest of us in the reality-based world believe it.

      <a href="http://tcf.org/commentary/pdfs/nc962/chilefactsheet.pdf/>Chile's Privatization Failures</a>

      Quote (though it's hopeless to present David in Cal with facts, but):

      "A quarter of a century since privatization took effect, Chilean's retirement security is on shaky ground. Recent reports by the World Bank and the Federal Reserve have highlighted some of the many problems with Chile's system. A combination of high management fees, low participation rates, unexpectedly heavy dependence on an inadequate safety net, and prohibitively high costs to government have led the system along a path of failure and left many Chilean workers with no reliable retirement plan. Is this really the model the United States hopes to replicate?"

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  9. One of my high school friends on Facebook is now peppering everyone's news feed with exhortations to vote for Rick Santorum so we can all be saved from Obama, who as far as I can tell lies somewhere on the political spectrum to the right of Richard Nixon.

    My former classmate, "James," really truly believes that if Obama is reelected, his children will be taught how to be homosexuals in their public schools. He believes we'll all be forced to live under socialism, though good luck trying to get a coherent explanation from him as to what that would look like or what would be bad about it. In addition, the liberals will take his guns and Bible away. All these things, which have never happened before and which no current evidence suggests could happen (particularly where he lives, in a suburb of Cincinnati!), can somehow be prevented by electing Rick Santorum.

    There is no way to discuss policy positions with him, because his opinions aren't backed up with anything like facts or arguments. It's strictly slogans, repeated again and again as though they are truths. Honestly, there's no way to call his opinions anything but irrational. I feel terribly sad to know he's going to spend his entire life as a victim of irrational fears, preyed upon mentally by demagogues like Santorum, in the service of the same corporate interests both parties are beholden to.

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    1. Anon -- I don't much like Santorum and I didn't like Nixon at all. However, I would point out that Nixon wasn't particularly right wing. As Presidentm, his two most notable achievements were opening relations with China and imposing wage-price controls. These would both be considered liberal, rather than conservative.

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    2. His two most notable....to paraphrase Monty Python's Cardinal Fang, no, his three most notable achievements were China, wage price controls and invading Cambodia....no, his four notable achievements were....and continuing the Viet Nam war, no, his five.....

      This is a boring not to mention tendentious game you play.

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  10. The fact that Rick Santorum is seriously considered for any kind of important office is proof positive, if it was needed, that Krugman was 100% on the money with his broad assertions.

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  11. The "similar plan" David refers to was established by Pinochet during Chile's dictatorship years, and rather remarkably excludes the two most powerful worker sectors under his regime -- the military and the police, who to this day are under the traditional SS system (the one like ours, with the safety of a government guarantee, and free of the high administrative fees which eat away at the privatized pensions).

    Meanwhile, very few Chilean workers are able to fund their private accounts at significant enough levels to sustain any kind of retirement, which means the government will have to pick up the slack. And there's relatively low worker participation generally (closer to 50%, than the 100% we have here). The government also indemnifies workers against the losses of the financial institutions (the same ones which gauge workers with high fees). And there are minimum government guarantees, which again creates liability, particularly in the event of a market-downturn.

    To date, the government has already had to step in, more than once, to bailout the private accounts, thanks to market losses.

    By the way, the creator of this system is very gainfully employed by the Cato Institute (American propagandists pay a hell of a lot better than do Chilean ones), to spread the gospel on this one.

    Finally, there's nothing tendentious about "privatization". It was the term "conservatives" originally proposed. They rejected it only when folks began to realize what it actually meant.

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    1. Going by memory, I recall conservatives using the term "partial privatization." I don't recall them calling it just plain "privatization."

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    2. Your memory has, alas, failed you. This is a link to the the document -- I'm tempted to call it a fatwa -- that publicly kicked off the right's jihad to privatize Social Security:

      http://www.cato.org/pubs/ssps/ssp7.html

      Note the title: "Privatizing Social Security: The $10 Trillion Opportunity"

      Also note the heading of the entire section: "Privatizing Social Security."

      I'm curious about something: are you paid to do this sort of thing -- mindlessly repeat right wing talking points on a left wing site, or are you one of those ill fellows who enjoys making a spectacle out of yourself, that is, you do it for the negative attention? I first noticed you making nonsense claims about global warming, and figured after you'd humiliated yourself there you'd give up. But you haven't given up, so now I'm trying to understand what motivates you.

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    3. Thanks for the link, Anon. However, as I read the article you linked to, it seems that what Feldstein called "privatization" was indeed a plan to fully privatize SS. OTOH in Bush's proposal, the privately invested amount was both optional and limited.

      In answer to your question, one reason I post here is in hope of getting fact-based discussion and debate from which I will learn things. E.g., I am grateful to you for pointing me to Feldstein's proposal, of which I had been unaware. If you could give me the scientific reasons why you disagree with my views on global warming, I would also be grateful.

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    4. If you haven't investigated the science behind global warming by now, I can only assume it's because you're no more interested in that than you are in understanding what informed the debate over privatizing Social Security. Which would be just interested enough to learn, then repeat, the talking points issued by right wing outlets. Really, to not know of Feldstein's paper but to pipe up about SS privatization is simply arrogant and presumptuous, not the sort of thing done by someone who's interested in "fact-based discussion."

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  12. It was called, and was in fact, privatization.

    That would have worked out well in a market crash.

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    1. Actually the Bush plan offered more security than the current plan, not less. The Bush plan had (part of) one's SS benefits actually funded. These funded benefits couldn't be taken away be Presidential or Congressional action. Having actual funds available to pay benefits is a lot better than having a mere revocable promise.

      Congress can reduce benefits any time they please. I think they will do so, because the Plan is running out of money, and the rest of the government has already run out of money. Anon, if you're a young working person, I thank you. Your contributions are helping pay my very generous benefits. Sadly for you, I don't think your benefits will be nearly as good as mine are.

      BTW the real problem with Bush's plan is it may be too generous and costly. It would have forced the government to pay now into funds to guarantee people's future benefits. That would have added considerably to the deficit.

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    2. David-in-CA, at long last, have you no shame?

      SS is loaded with actual funds and more arrive constantly -- those funds are called the SS payroll tax.

      Once again, slow reader, Social Security *is* funded -- by direct, dedicated taxation.

      "Congress can reduce..." whatever plan you (irrelevantly) think Bush would have created also. So you have no point there. None.

      But your fear-mongering to the side, the market can quite easily and often does destroy the value of private or partially-private accounts (as people have tried to point out to you with regard to your Chilean "example" -- which is in the real-world a counter-example, demonstrating in fact the great dangers to public weal in adopting a private, or partly-private funding mechanism).

      What you think about a "young working person's" likely benefit from SS is pure disinformation:

      >> In addition to the *continuous* funding from direct taxation, there is a trust fund paying SS when tax receipts are below benefit disbursements.

      >> This fund can increase in value or decrease, but even if the fund runs out entirely, the *continuous* funding from taxation will be able to pay out benefits at a very substantial level.

      Social Security's finances are in danger only due to the degree to which they are demagogued by hacks and these lies are believed by the disinformed -- which is to say, there is great danger, but not because of the financial picture.

      On financial terms, SS as an institution faces only *very* small, long-term changes to maintain its full benefit to future retirees.

      People with actual, as opposed to feigned, concern about US financial health do not raise SS as a financial concern, because it is irrelevant. People *actually* concerned with US finances in the long term worry about our too-expensive-by-far private, free-market healthcare system. This system does indeed threaten to bankrupt our nation in the long term, as well as leave ever-increasing increasing millions upon millions of us with no real access to healthcare.

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  13. Swan -- when addressing pensions, the word "funded" has a specific technical meaning. A Plan is said to be fully funded if it owns enough assets to pay all acculated liabilities. In other words, if a "fully funded" Plan shut down and stopped receiving any more contributions, it would have enough assets to pay its entire remaining obligations to all current retirees plus enough to pay the partial benefits accumulated to date for those in the system but not yet retired.

    Private pension plans are required by law to be fully funded. Otherwise they're considered insolvent and the government shuts them down. The unfunded liability for SS is tens of trillions of dollars.

    But Swan, you really agreed with me, when you wrote, "if the fund runs out entirely, the *continuous* funding from taxation will be able to pay out benefits at a very substantial level."

    As you know, the SS Trust fund willrun out in a few years. And, at that point, taxation will not be sufficient to pay full benefits. So, if you're a young person, you really don't know how much SS beneftits you're going to get. As a retiree, I don't know whether my SS benefits will be cut at some point in the future. By comparison, my private pension is fully funded, so I know they have enough money to pay my promised pension for the rest of my life.

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    1. Glad to see you can't contradict any of what I wrote, which in fact is a full debunking of the standard "critique" of SS.

      SS is more able to provide benefits than any other pubic system -- how it compares to your private pension is irrelevant in the extreme.

      Most companies don't provide pensions at all; most of those that have in the past provided pensions have ceased to do so; most that provided defined-benefit plans have now either ceased plans for new employees or moved to a defined-contribution model. You know all of this. You also know it is irrelevant to SS finances.

      SS *will* be there for future retirees -- today's "young working person" -- and the only change necessary to ensure "full benefits" far into the future is quite small.

      As a matter of government finance, it's a non-starter on our list of problems.

      As a matter of guaranteeing full benefits to future retirees, it's trivial.

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    2. D in C, you say private pension funds are "fully funded." Do you mean that they have liquid cash in the bank to fund all future pension payments? I don't think that is the case. I believe the insurance companies have investments which I assume include U.S. treasury bonds - the same type of assets held by the social security administration.

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  14. Yes, the private companies have investments, just as the SS Trust Fund does. SS invests solely in government bonds, while the private companies hold a mix of government bonds, corporate bonds, and perhaps a smaller amount of common stock. However, the diffent investment vehicles don't matter for the purpose of your question.

    The key difference is in the amount. The private companies have enough money invested to pay all committed benefits, even if they received no further income. The SS Trust Fund has nowhere near this amount of money.

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    1. "The private companies have enough money invested to pay all committed benefits, even if they received no further income."

      If this were true, there would be no need for an insurance fund to cover pension plan defaults (which, in any case, isn't designed to satisfy 100% of the original guarantee) and there would be no instances of workers not getting the pensions they were promised -- examples of which aren't hard to find, including in companies taken over by Mitt Romney.

      In any case, we've been over this with David in Cal before. It was explained to him that SS is a "pay as you go system", not a pension plan, and that David in Cal is free to express his preference for a pension plan over social insurance, but that judging SS by the actuarial standards demanded of pension plans is either idiotic or intentionally misleading. Not that either would stop David in Cal.

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    2. Yup. The point that a private pension is run by a company that could go out of business tomorrow (it happens all the time) and therefore can't count on future revenues to fund its pensions is lost on David.

      Sadly, the question by Anonymous at 9:54AM shows that even after a complete, factual and simple explanation, people will still ask irrelevant questions.

      The US government collects dedicated SS taxes *every* *year* -- those taxes pay the benefits. Next year, more payments go out, but also, more revenues are collected.

      The "unfunded liability" issue is a liar's issue.

      If the payments will be less than the taxes collected in a certain year, then a surplus will accumulate (this is what has happened for several years in the past).

      If the payments will be greater than the the taxes collected in a certain year, then that surplus will be depleted (this is what is happening now).

      If there is no remaining surplus and demography tells us we are in for an extended period in which benefits will exceed taxes collected, then we need to collect more taxes (demography tells us this will indeed happen).

      How much more must we collect? The exact answer depends on several things. But as a percentage of USA GDP, the answer is NOT VERY MUCH AT ALL.

      Is there an alternative to raising taxes? Of course there is. We could just reduce the benefits when we run out of surplus.

      But wouldn't that mean people get less than they were promised? Yes, that's exactly what it would mean. It's exactly the same as proposing to raise the retirement age -- you pay less benefits.

      The point though, is that it's no "crisis" at all. The date when the surplus will run out remains many years away.

      There is ample time to make small revenue adjustments so that no reduction in benefits is needed.

      Or, there is ample time to create the expectation that benefits must be smaller. How much smaller? Only a little bit smaller. Remember, even though the surplus is gone, huge new tax receipts are always coming in.

      SS can never go away unless those who want to destroy it succeed in killing it off.

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