Old Folks

Ken AshfordSocial SecurityLeave a Comment

Yglesius gives George Will the heel of his boot on social security:

George Will, like many other conservatives, is positively irate that old people won’t get behind the president’s plan even though the president has promised not to cut their benefits. In response, it’s worth noting first and foremost that senior citizens may have concerns about this subject other than naked self-interest. But on the subject of naked self-interest, it seems worth pointing out that Will and co. are almost certainly full of shit on this topic. If privatization is put in place, this will create a new, and large, financial gap in Social Security. It will also create a situation where younger voters — everyone under 55 on privatization’s Zero Hour — no longer have a stake in defending the generosity of older people’s Social Security benefits. Right now, if you’re my age, your future benefits depend, in part, on what today’s retirees get. Under privatization, that link will be broken. So when the shortfall starts getting big what, realistically, is going to get the ax?

I can’t say for sure that it will be benefits for current retirees, but it seems likely. At the same time, current retirees have nothing to gain from the creation of private accounts (it won’t apply to them), and nothing to lose from higher income taxes or higher payroll taxes (they’re retired). Privatization might not have a negative impact on older Americans, but from their perspective privatization is all downside risk with no upside reward. Some younger people certainly will wind up better off under privatization than they would be otherwise (and some will lose out), but absolutely no old people will benefit, while many stand a good chance of suffering.