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Gerson’s Choice for Congress: Pork or Social Security

Michael and Neel: Altar for thee, not for me. (photo: stëve via Flickr)

In today’s installment of the Washington Post’s campaign to wreck Social Security, Michael Gerson displays his ignorance of economics, budgets, and the role of Social Security in securing the stability of the country. The problem is that Neel Kashkari took on Gerson’s normal role of religious scold, encouraging self-sacrifice and self-denial on the elderly to protect the interests of his rich conservative friends. I’m sure Gerson would have added much stronger patriotic flourishes and maybe a clarion call. Instead, we get the kind of arguments you would expect from a man whose job was to write “See Spot Run” speeches for the Last Bush.

Gerson is wrong from the beginning: “America’s debt problem is mainly an entitlement spending problem.” Nonsense. America’s current debt problem has nothing to do with either Social Security or Medicare. Neither program has contributed one red cent to the current debt load of the United States, except in the sense that the Social Security Trust Fund and the Medicare Trust Fund are the proud owners of Treasury Bonds. On the other hand, those Trust Funds paid for their bonds, and naturally, they expect to be able to redeem them. I look forward to Gerson’s explanation of how we are going to default on those bonds, and why that isn’t a sovereign default.

Gerson goes on to explain that the combination of what he calls, for no apparent reason, “mandatory health programs and Social Security” will rise from 10% of the Gross Domestic Product to 18.5% by 2035. During that entire time, Social Security will not add a cent to US debt. The Treasury Bonds in the Trust Fund will cover all of the costs anticipated in Social Security until at least then, and likely a good bit longer.

His argument for screwing workers out of Social Security is that we can’t increase spending on anything else, whether parks or pork, if we don’t. It’s as if every other program is sacred, including especially the trillions for war. The cynicism of encouraging Congress to hurt American workers in the name of pork is an unexpected twist for the allegedly Evangelical Gerson.

Then he explains that Social Security is all about intergenerational hostility.

Since the New Deal, America has seen a massive transfer of wealth from young to old through entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, with many dramatically positive results

Of course, since 1935, the young who were paying have aged into the part of the population that is receiving benefits. And Gerson doesn’t seem to know that since 1983, all of us have paid excess taxes into the Social Security Trust Fund so that the money would be available. There is no intergenerational transfer. The money was transferred to the wealthiest Americans in the form of unjustified tax cuts. Baby boomers want it back from the recipients, not from their own pockets or the pockets of their children. And Gerson hasn’t figured out that most young people would prefer that Mom and Dad be able to live on their own, instead of in the spare bedroom.

I doubt that Gerson’s natural audience is alert to mere reality, which explains his willingness to write this garbage. Kashkari’s usurpation of his true-believer role makes sense: he would be ridiculed by his peers if he made such ignorant assertions, and he would be embarrassed. Gerson is arrayed in an invisible cloak of ignorance, which protects him from embarrassment.

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