Social Security, as we know, is not in a crisis. In fact, its already-health long-term outlook has improved with the 2005 Trustees’ Report. Nevertheless, over the next few weeks, media talking heads and the president will no doubt start chattering away over slight shortfalls in the program’s funding 40 years from now.
Never mind the fact that even if these shortfalls do appear in 2041 (or, better yet, in 2052, which is what the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted), the program can still pay 74 percent of promised benefits—benefits that are higher in real terms than those paid out today, and benefits that will likely be higher than anything workers can gain under privatization. (Especially when you factor in the fact that we’ll all have to pay higher income taxes thanks to those multi-trillion dollar transition costs!)
But set that aside for a second and look at the bigger picture. We’re all obsessing over a slight shortfall—a mere 1.37 percent of GDP—four decades from now. Meanwhile, do admire the trunk, ears, and massive girth of the elephant honking around the room: namely, the massive budget deficits we’re running right this very second. Those deficits are 2.6 percent of GDP now, and will amount to a whopping 10.70 percent of GDP in 2042. The primary cause of these deficits, meanwhile, are the Bush tax cuts. And the primary reason that these deficits will accelerate so spectacularly over the next 40 years have little to do with Social Security and almost everything to do with rising health care costs and interest payments on a debt that the current Bush administration refuses to tackle. Max Sawicky has the wonky details here. Bottom line, there’s a crisis going on this very instant, and we’d all do well to keep our eyes on it.