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June 14, 2004


Social Security is another topic that is boring until EXTREMELY INTERESTING. If you don't need Social Security, it is so boring it's difficult to type even a few words about it without losing consciousness. I have only been able to do so here via the aid of Class A chemical stimulants.

However, if you need Social Security, it is EXTREMELY INTERESTING. It is extremely interesting in the way that not living on the street is interesting. It is extremely interesting in the way that not starving to death is interesting.

So, here's some good news: Social Security continues to be fine. From my perspective, the most important implication of this is that there's no need for us to spend any more of our limited time on earth thinking about it.

I know this may be a surprise to you. The standard position is American politics is to run around in circles shrieking, "Social Security will collapse! It will collapse within twelve seconds! O Sweet Jesus, the Collapse of Social Security is about to devour us all!"

Back here in reality, Social Security has not been about to collapse. It has been fine. I know this because, for reasons too uninteresting to explain, I know a lot about it. I could explain why it's fine, but it would be so boring that even my large stores of cocaine and methamphetamine wouldn't help.

Instead, let me just point something out to anyone inclined to worry. Do you see all the people warning about the terrifying Social Security crisis?

Now, think back a year and a half. Do you remember the exact same people warning you about another terrifying crisis? One having to do with a country whose name starts with I and ends with Q? Do you remember how they ran around in circles shrieking, "Saddam Hussein has WMD! He has them right now! O Sweet Jesus, Saddam Hussein is about to break into our homes and devour etc., etc.!"

Well, it's exactly the same situation now. The crisis is just as real with Social Security as it was with Iraq. It's just as bone-chillingly terrifying. The people shrieking are being just as honest and accurate as before.

So my advice is: do not spend a second of your life thinking about Social Security (except to prevent the shriekers from destroying it). There is no crisis. If you want to learn about it in detail, feel free, but keep in mind that so doing will also require the development of a powerful drug addiction.

Posted at June 14, 2004 08:34 PM | TrackBack

Your site doesn't have an email address, so hopefully you'll see this. You responded to my post on Yglesias's site yesterday.

I'd be curious on some details about the non-collapse of Social Security. I think it's true-- if all you care about is preserving the SS system in something resembling its current form, you can raise taxes and cut benefits as much as it takes to bring the two into balance.

That's not a very compelling position, though, if taxes have to be raised to extortionate levels and benefits have to be cut to the point where the elderly are all living in poverty.

The relevant question is whether Social Security is a good deal, and if not, whether there is a private alternative that can perform better. I'm a writer, not an economist, so I haven't crunched the numbers myself, but my understanding is that if someone who started working at any time in the last 60 years had been allowed to invest his Social Security taxes in a diversified stock portfolio, he'd have retired with enough money in the bank to live much better than the benefit Social Security offers.

The argument that in fact stocks are only going to return 3%/year in the future is a new one to me, and I find it a little hard to believe. I'd love to see the argument, though. I would crunch the numbers as you suggest, but I don't know the SSA's reports very well and don't really have the time to search around for them. If the figures have been worked out in detail someplace, I'd be very interested in seeing that, though.

Posted by: Tim at November 30, 2004 12:07 PM