"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Perry on Social Security

Apparently the big moment in last night's GOP presidential debate was the contrast between Mitt Romney's "we must save Social Security" position and Rick Perry's "Social Security is a Ponzi scheme" position.    Here's the video:

Now, I've seen people say that Perry's position is poisonous in the general election.   Here's a blogger on Ace of Spades making the point:

He also needs to make it crystal clear that he's not talking about messing with Social Security for anyone on or near it. He's in big trouble if he can't make that argument.

I'm not so sure. 

As a practical political matter, they're probably right.   In America ca. 2012 you probably can't get elected saying you might have to cut benefits, not just for youngsters who are still decades away from getting Social Security, but for the old coots who are on the cusp or are already receiving monthly checks.  

As a matter of practical economics, however, I don't think you can get to a solvent system anytime soon -- and we need to get there soon -- without cutting benefits for current recipients, or at the very least limiting COLAs and probably (unfortunately) means-testing at the high-income/high-wealth end.   And I don't see why you can't raise the retirement age for people under the age of, say, 60, rather than the current proposals for people under 55 or even under 50.   Believe me, people who are 60 or older are going to have to change their expectations for retirement anyway; they might as well change their expectations for Social Security.

Finally, it's also a moral issue.   The generations currently on Social Security or the baby-boomers nearing it are the people who ran up huge deficits and handed younger generations a national debt that they'll have to repay over their lifetimes.   Is it really moral to say that, in addition to leaving you an impoverished nation, we also want you to bear all the burden of returning this Ponzi scheme to solvency?   Everybody should have skin in this game.

Maybe I'm in the minority (probably so), but I'll vote for the first guy who says, "No, I can't promise that I'll protect Social Security exactly as it is for current recipients or people nearing retirement age.   We may all need to make sacrifices to make our country great again, and we can't just exempt certain classes of people from that shared sacrifice."   If that turns out to be Rick Perry -- and it looks like it might -- he'll be my guy.

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