One Point and 150 Grand

Michael O’Hare polled one of his undergraduate policy design classes at Berkeley to see what they thought about the future of Social Security. The results:

  • 16%: Social Security is in very serious financial trouble and probably won’t be there for my parents
  • 66%:  Social Security is in financial trouble and probably won’t be there for me
  • 16%: Social Security is basically OK and just needs some minor adjustments.

From this we can conclude a couple of things: (a) there are probably 18 students in Mike’s class, and (b) the conservative campaign to convince everyone that Social Security is doomed has been wildly successful, even among extremely bright kids who are actively interested in policy issues.

The success of this propaganda campaign is especially impressive because the truth of option 3 (Social Security only needs minor tweaks) is hardly arguable if you have even the barest understanding of Social Security’s finances. I struggle constantly trying to figure out a way to convince people of this in a simple way, so here’s another crack at it:

If we gradually raise the payroll tax from 6.2% to 7.2% and gradually raise the earnings cap from $100,000 to $250,0001 between 2030 and 2050, Social Security will be solvent forever.

That’s it. How much simpler can it be? Certainly this is as easy to understand as raising the retirement age to 67 or changing the COLA formula or whatnot. I don’t have any objection to considering some of that other stuff if and when we ever get around to cutting a deal on Social Security, but we don’t have to if we don’t want to. If you want a simple slogan for the masses, “1 point and 150 grand” does the job just fine. Add one point to Social Security taxes and increase the earnings cap by $150,000 over the course of 20 years. Done.

1Indexed for inflation, of course.