This rightie blogger thinks he already has a “personal” Social Security account. And even though he believes he already has a “personal account,” he agrees with President Bush that establishing “personal accounts” will fix the system.
Surber usually isn’t one of the dumbest wingnuts — just average, I’d say — but he dropped off the IQ scale entirely this time.
It’s possible that he does know how the system works and is just playing some kind of semantic game to snark at Atrios. But it ought to be obvious even to an idiot that Atrios is talking about the private investment accounts President Bush wants, so if Surber is just playing with semantics that would make him not only stupid, but a stupid asshole.
That said, Atrios’s post does beg some questions between “carve outs” and “add ons” and whether the Dems ought to make any moves whatsoever in the direction of personal Social Security accounts. The discussion started with a post on The Economist advocating a “grand bargain.” Brad DeLong explains:
Back in 1998, 1999, and 2000 there was a deal to be struck: bring the existing Social Security system back into balance with a combination of (small) tax increases and (moderate) future benefit cuts, and supercharge it with add-on private but regulated and insured personal accounts. But neither Gingrich, Hastert, Armey, Delay, or Lott were interested in such a deal–it would give another substantive public-policy victory to Bill Clinton, you see. After 2000 Bush was interested in–well, it was never clear what Bush was interested in, for different advisors said very different things, and Bush never proposed a plan.
But the deal that was there to be struck in 1998, 1999, and 2000 is still there to be struck, if program design and decision-making can be moved out of the White House to locations with credibility.
In this case, as I understand it, the add-on private accounts were not expected to solve the Social Security program’s anticipated shortfalls, but would just provide an additional source of income for seniors without changing the nature of the system itself. The system itself would still require some other kind of revenue increase to keep it going. Carve-out accounts would be something else. The idea behind carve-outs is that redirecting money coming into the system into private investment accounts would somehow magically solve the system’s solvency problem. But even if these private accounts did well, redirecting the money would require the government to borrow trillions of dollars from somewhere else to pay the Social Security benefits already committed to. Paul Krugman explains:
Advocates of privatization almost always pretend that all we have to do is borrow a bit of money up front, and then the system will become self-sustaining. The Wehner memo talks of borrowing $1 trillion to $2 trillion “to cover transition costs.” Similar numbers have been widely reported in the news media.
But that’s just the borrowing over the next decade. Privatization would cost an additional $3 trillion in its second decade, $5 trillion in the decade after that and another $5 trillion in the decade after that. By the time privatization started to save money, if it ever did, the federal government would have run up around $15 trillion in extra debt.
The add-on accounts advocated by The Economist are, I think, just supposed to be a good-will gesture in the spirit of bipartisanship. Matt Yglesias writes:
…there’s sort of no telling what sort of foolish things the Democrats will agree to, but I say no, no, no to this. For one thing, while stonewalling on administration priorities may work out okay if you’re in opposition, it actually works way better if you’re actually in charge on the Hill. In the minority, you don’t need to agree with administration proposals, but you do need to deal with them on some level. In opposition, administration proposals can simply be dismissed out of hand. And, indeed, any proposal that involves “carve out” private accounts should be rejected out of hand. Such accounts are poor public policy (increasing the riskiness of retirement at a time of generally growing riskiness, increasing inequality at a time of generally growing inequality) and the political proof is in the pudding — opposing them wins elections, proposing them loses elections.
The starting point for a responsible approach to the federal budget is, in the short term, bringing the ruinously costly Iraq War to as speedy a conclusion as possible. Next is rescinding the bulk of Bush’s tax cuts. Next would be looking toward some increase in taxes on gasoline or carbon emissions. Reform of the country’s wildly inadequate health care system (implicating, among other things, Medicare and Medicaid) should always be a priority. Minor adjustments to the Social Security tax and payout formula could prove necessary in the future depending on what happens to immigration and productivity, but needn’t be a high-level priority. Carving private accounts out of the system should remain off the table and certainly Democrats have no business collaborating in any such endeavor.
Atrios was talking about the carve-out program President Bush tried to sell. Brad DeLong responds here. As I see it, the question is whether there is any reason for Democrats to consider an add-on program, and DeLong thinks there might be.
However, I doubt an add-on program would appease the righties. Richard Stevenson wrote in the New York Times (March 7, 2005):
On the other side, supporters of Mr. Bush’s approach said there was no chance that add-on accounts could be the basis for a deal.
“There is no support whatsoever among conservatives in the House and the Senate for add-on accounts,” said Michael Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group that has promoted private investment accounts for two decades. “The whole point is transforming the Social Security system from a system where people are dependent on the government to one where people can save for themselves and accumulate wealth on their own, and add-on accounts don’t do anything to transform Social Security.”
On top of that, many Democrats fear that add-on accounts would open a door over the long run to accounts drawn from payroll taxes.
“It’s a dangerous concept for those who say they support Social Security,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal research and advocacy group that opposes Mr. Bush’s approach. “Private accounts, whether financed out of the Social Security system or financed out of general revenues, are still a bad substitute for guaranteed Social Security benefits. So anyone who thinks add-ons are a solution should think twice because they really are a Trojan horse.”
But it is exactly that possibility – that add-on accounts might pave the way for accounts carved out of Social Security – that might make the concept politically viable as a compromise, Professor Patashnik of the University of Virginia said.
“If you ideologically want to transform Social Security and thereby begin changing F.D.R.’s legacy and the welfare state, the question is whether add-on accounts will help you or hurt you,” he said. “Would it be a failure because the existing Social Security system remains in place and you haven’t carved anything out of it? Or will add-on accounts become popular and develop a constituency, so that young people who have less trust in the government than in the marketplace ultimately pressure Congress to increase the size of the accounts relative to Social Security?”
So I’m with Atrios — no private accounts attached to Social Security. If the government wants to initiate some kind of forced savings/investment accounts — and I’m not saying it should — these accounts should be in an entirely separate program.
Judging from the hints flying around Washington, the administration sees how to bridge this divide. Democrats may be allergic to personal Social Security accounts, but they are enthusiastic about other ideas for personal retirement accounts that just don’t have “Social Security” in the title. …
… while Republicans have been pushing personal retirement accounts as part of an entitlement fix, Democrats have been pushing personal retirement accounts because they worry about worker insecurity. By enlarging the debate so that it’s about savings in the era of globalization rather than just Social Security, negotiators can conjure up the common ground that was missing during the 2005 train wreck. Personal accounts need not be merely the alternative to the traditional Social Security benefit. They can simultaneously be the alternative to the nation’s outrageously regressive system of tax breaks for saving and a way to help ordinary people build nest eggs. When personal accounts become both of these things, perhaps Republicans and Democrats alike will back them.
Mallaby ignores the fact that the wingnuts really, truly want to destroy Social Security. They’ve desired this since the FDR Administration. This has nothing to do with the flaws or merits of the program; they just want to get rid of it on principle. They’re not going to stop. The Dems could offer up a wonderful personal retirement account program separate from the Social Security System, and the wingnuts will still want to destroy Social Security.
An if the Democrats offer a progressive personal retirement account program that mostly benefits working and middle-class Americans, not the wealthy, the wingnuts will hate that, too.