Hands Off Harrop
Nobody wants to upset the imposing beast of a retiring Me Generation, and Froma Harrop joined that nobody with her Sunday column:
What should we do about Social Security?
“I would just say, ‘Let’s sit on this,'” Baker answers. If come 2030 Americans see problems looming, he adds, “we can do something.”
Much could change in over 20 years. Productivity gains have helped fewer workers pay for more retirees in the past and could in the future. And longer life spans may also alter the dynamics.
“How long into their lives should someone born in 2020 work?” Baker asks. “I have no idea.”
The Baker whose prescription Harrop takes without question is Dean Baker, “a founder and director of the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research,” and his advice is premised on the assertion that 2017, when the Social Security system will have to start dipping into its trust fund, “means zero to the program.” Of course, it does mean something to the people whose government likes to spend in the red and will have to come up with the money to honor the IOUs that wholly constitute that fund.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume that 2041 — when the trust fund bonds will run out — is the danger date. I find the Baker-Harrop balance of risk and lead time, well, convenient. Rather than address a structural problem thirty-plus years in advance — establishing a new strategy with plenty of time to assimilate and a large retiring generation to maximize the benefits of any reform — the guardians of Social Security would have us sit back and watch the Boomers inch their way to octogenarianism in the hopes that something will just come up. (Sounds like the General Assembly method of budget planning, no?)
Now it becomes conspicuous that Harrop glides right through the assertions that really require further explanation, such as the suggestion that “productivity gains have helped fewer workers pay for more retirees in the past and could in the future.” What past? When? If she means a time when advances in farming enabled a family to feed more of its elders, I’m not sure the observation applies. At best, the economic mechanism seems likely to have something to do with workers’ earning more (because more productive) and therefore being able to pay more in taxes for retirees’ benefit.
Or consider this: “How long into their lives should someone born in 2020 work?” That looks like an admission that the age of retirement will have to be pushed back, but for future generations — TBA. My fellow young(ish) adults might join me in wondering why there’s no calculation of balance. If Baby Boomers were to wait five years for Social Security benefits, maybe we’d only have to wait ten, instead of twenty-five, or whatever it will prove to be when we reassess things mid-century.
Hands off Social Security, Harrop insists, at least until the Boomers have gotten their share. It’s their last chance to stick it to those who’ve followed them, after all.