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Tag Archives: Social Security

Wait–Did Chris Matthews Say Social Security was a Ponzi Scheme?

Oh my, oh my! With all of the left-leaning folks eager to shoot down the notion that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, I’m sure they would be surprised to hear who agrees with that notion. Can you believe MSNBC’s Chris Matthews actually agrees?

Matthews first put forth what he thought Social Security was originally intended to be: “You pay for it while you work. When you retired and have no other form of income, this will help you out. In fact, a lot were impoverished in the old days without Social Security. It’s a great anti-poverty program. But then people started to live past 65. Even the great Franklin Roosevelt didn’t make it to 65. In those days, if you made it to 65, you were lucky. You got a few bucks on Social Security.”

Then he put forth what it has become: “Today, lots of people fortunately make it past 65,” he said. “They live into their 80s and 90s. They’re still getting checks. The system doesn’t work that way anymore. It’s not as healthy as it once was. So, how does a Republican deal with the fact it is a Ponzi scheme in the sense that the money that’s paid out every day is coming from people who have paid in that day. It’s not being made somewhere.”

The actual video clip can be found following the link.

By the way, giving credit where credit is due, yesterday’s post about SS and Ponzi was spurred by a conversation with my buddy Carl, who blogs here.

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Social Security and Ponzi Schemes: What’s the Difference Between Bernie Madoff and Uncle Sam?

While listening to popular radio talk host Neal Boortz, I heard a comparison that has been made many times.  Simply put, Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.  And when you look at, the that assessment is dead on.

For the uninitiated (which included me until I looked it up), the father of the Ponzi scheme is Charles Ponzi, who at the peak of his pyramid scheme in the early 1900s was bringing in $250,000 a day before his downfall. There is a good Wiki on this here, but in short, hundreds of investors paid money into his scheme, with the promise of high returns in a short amount of time. What was really happening was, Ponzi was taking the money from new investors and paying out to “older” investors. A more recent grassroots example that many may have heard of was the infamous “Friends Helping Friends” scheme (I can’t be the only one that was asked at one point to join this). Same concept–you pay in, work your way up the pyramid, and cash out. And of course, there is Bernie Madoff, who had a $50 million dollar Ponzi scheme going until he was ratted out by family.

For the plan to work, there has to be a constant influx of new people and new money. When that stops, the pyramid falls.

So, let’s compare Social Security, that bedrock of entitlement programs, with the common aspects of the Ponzi Scheme.

  • In a Ponzi scheme, new people coming into the pyramid-like scheme pay in, expecting a payout later.  With Social Security, workers pay in during their working career, expecting a payout after retirement.
  • Ponzi scheme:  the people at the top of the pyramid get their payouts using the money from the new investors at the bottom of the pyramid.  Social Security:  recipients are paid using the money paid in by current workers.
  • Ponzi scheme:  money coming in is spent immediately, not saved.   Social Security:  money coming in goes right back out.  There is no “lockbox,” and by law, surplus Social Security funds are put into the general fund to pay for other government things having nothing to do with Social Security.
  • Ponzi scheme:  rate of return may vary, but is usually very high, which is what attracts investors.  Social Security:  compared to the rate of return available on the private market, that of Social Security is a joke (for lack of a better description).
  • Ponzi scheme:  when there are not enough folks paying in, the pyramid collapses.  Social Security:  when there are not enough folks paying in (we’re getting to that point), insolvency occurs and the government goes into debt to fund it.
  • Ponzi scheme:  investors pay in voluntarily.  Social Security:  attempt to opt out, and you will get a visit from government agents with badges and guns.
  • Ponzi scheme:  people who run them are arrested and go to jail.  Social Security:  Well, you know the answer to that one.

There you have it.  Our Social Security program that everyone knows and loves is a government-endorsed Ponzi scheme.  Anyone saying otherwise just doesn’t get it.

Another Person Who Agrees With Me–Reagan Would Be Persona Non Grata in Today’s GOP

On a couple of different occasions, I wrote about how former President Ronald Reagan probably could get elected by today’s GOP no matter how much they revere him (see here and here). It’s an opinion shared by a number of pundits across the blogosphere. Here is another example of exactly what I mean:

After trying (and failing) to disembowel Social Security, Reagan did an dramatic about-face and bailed out the program to the tune of $165 billion and made Social Security taxes more progressive, forcing upper-income Americans to shoulder more of the burden than their poor counterparts.
Reagan raised taxes 11 times! He passed the largest tax increase since World War II and introduced hefty new corporate taxes.

While conservatives like Sarah Palin tout Reagan’s record for standing up to the Soviet Union, they ignore that Reagan was attacked by far-right conservatives for being too conciliatory to the Communist bloc. When Reagan engaged in direct talks with Gorbachev and the Soviets, conservative leader Paul Wyerich wrote in The Washington Post, “Reagan is a weakened president, weakened in spirit as well as clout.”

Go here to read the rest. It’s definitely worth the read.

Let’s Put the “We Can’t Guarantee the Checks Will Go Out” Myth to Bed, Shall We?

Once more, with feeling!

If you haven’t heard, President Obama said he couldn’t guarantee that Social Security checks would go out on August 3rd, the day after the US is projected to go past the debt ceiling and somehow default on every debt under the sun.  While some of us recognize that even after that point, the money coming IN to the Social Security Administration will still be coming in, which means the money going OUT in terms of checks will still be going out, the scare tactic is being echoed by those on the left as though its a done deal that recipients (along with recipients of veterans benefits) won’t be getting their money.  How could the mean, rich-loving Republicans do that?

Then we find out that there is plenty of tax revenue to cover the benefits:

he Daily Treasury Statement for June 30—which any American, including the president, can look up on the U.S. Treasury Department’s website at this link—says the government took in $196.994 billion in revenue during the month.

The same statement says that the government paid out $50.719 billion in Social Security benefits in June, $4.196 billion in veterans’ benefits, and $2.961 billion for other Veteran Affairs department programs.

The combined $57.876 billion that the federal government paid out for Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits and other veterans programs during June equaled 29.4 percent of federal revenue for the month.

The only way the checks don’t get paid is if the government DECIDES not to send them out.  And we know who is in charge of the government in DC right now, no?

So, let’s do the math. The government had about $140 billion extra over what they paid out in benefits. And unless time stops, there is a very good chance the same thing could happen during July as well. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that there will be money to pay out those benefit checks, right?  Ding  Ding!  Ding!  We have a winner!  Now, go to the front of the line and get that Social Security check!

It will be waiting for you on August 3rd.

Clark Howard Nails It: The Country is “Sailing Up Denial” About Taxing Our Way Out of Debt

I happened to hear Clark Howard on the radio while driving back to the office from a business event.  For those that don’t know, Clark Howard (like Dave Ramsey) is a consumer guru known for giving out advice and tips to the masses via his radio and TV programs.  During his program today, he mentioned that the country as a whole was “sailing up denial” when it comes to solutions to fix the country’s long-term debt issues.  While I will still be more of a fan of the saying “denial is a river in Egypt,” Howard definitely nailed the thought process that currently occupies the minds of many Americans–that increasing taxes on the top earners, without making cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, is a viable option for debt reduction over the long term.

The fact that a poll was taken on this subject is quite humorous.  There are a couple of ideas that rule the hearts and minds of many Americans.  The first is that they wouldn’t support the reduction of government benefit programs, knowing they would be affected by the reductions.  Seems to be the simple law of self preservation to me.  The second is that people feel if a person is rich (or seems that way) then regardless of whether or not they actually paid into a benefit, they have money and can do without the government entitlements.  These thoughts reflect, as Howard also stated, that in America, we don’t have a notion of shared sacrifice on the issue.  “Don’t change MY stuff, just make the rich fund it.”  Tricky thing is, as Howard explained, you could tax the upper 1%-2% of income earners all the way to destitution, and the debt problem still wouldn’t be solved.  Further–and I thought this was spot on–if the solution used was more taxes with no benefits cuts, eventually there wouldn’t be enough money coming into the government to pay for benefits.  Before long, individuals would find themselves solely responsible for their own welfare and wellbeing, just like in the old days.  One can only imagine the outcry THAT would produce.

Here’s to hoping that Congress gets it right for a change and puts the sacrifice on everyone, not just a few people.

Neither party is serious about debt, and the joke is on us

As of today, to pay off the entire US debt would require every US citizen to write a check for $45,400.  EVERY citizen.  The total debt is right at $14.1 TRILLION.  And neither party is really serious about doing something about it.

On the right, they are making a lot of noise, but as the saying goes, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  First, after promising to cut $100 billion in spending from the next budget, they are only able to come up with about $65 billion.  After being called to task by the Tea Party, they are able to dig and find the promised $100 billion.  The problem?  Not only are the cuts based on a budget that President Obama never sent to the House, but they also used the infamous “baseline budgeting” tricks.

Quick refresher:  Baseline budgeting is a technique where by the budget of a particular department or organization is projected years in advance.  Typically, those budgets include an already-applied increase in funding.  So, a department may already have on paper that in 2011, they will be funded at $10 million, but due to a budget increase already factored in, they may know that their budget in 2012 will have $10.3 million due to an expected 3% increase in funding.

What republicans have done is to say “we are going to cut x billions,” not acknowledging that instead of truly cutting funding, they are simply reducing the already scheduled budget increase.  So instead of cutting a department’s funding from $10 million to $9 million, they are simply advocating cutting the 3% increase to 2% or some other number.  The cut isn’t really a cut.

Further, in the “fraud waste and abuse” category, some republicans are on board with funding a 2nd, alternative engine for the F-35 Lightning II project.  The F-35 is slated to replace thousands of fighter jets in the US inventory, and the building effort is being shared across many countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, and Turkey.  The engines for the plane are made by Rolls Royce, but there is an effort in Congress to secure funding for a second engine.  The reasoning given is “in case the first one has problems,” but the real reason is to secure jobs and a contract for an American firm.  Even the Pentagon has said they don’t want it.

Democrats aren’t helping.  Even thought the White House has proposed cutting funding to some programs (like a heating oil assistance program), many Dems refuse to go along with any proposed cuts in “entitlement” spending.   Though everything should be on the table, dems are resisting anything that might touch Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Obama and the democrats have also been using the baseline budgeting trick, especially with the healthcare reform bill.  Once again, a cut isn’t really a cut.

For there to be real solutions, someone on both sides needs to wake up and wake up their fellow politicians to the real threat they all know about but are afraid to do something about (don’t want to mess up their reelection chances!).  The recommendations of the Debt Committee would be a good place to start.

Doom and gloom for Social Security, but folks aren’t serious about a fix

The latest report out regarding the fiscal health of Social Security is out:

New congressional projections show Social Security running deficits every year until its trust funds are eventually drained in about 2037.
This year alone, Social Security is projected to collect $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out in retirement, disability and survivor benefits, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That figure swells to $130 billion when a new one-year cut in payroll taxes is included, though Congress has promised to repay any lost revenue from the tax cut.
Read more: Social Security fund will be drained by 2037

The problem is, agreement on a fix is a hard thing to pin down. Democrats want to fix the problem by simply eliminating the top end contribution cap. Currently, 6.2% of an earner’s income is deducted for Social Security until that person reaches $106,000 in income. Republicans (as well as members of the Debt Commission) recommend increasing the retirement age for future beneficiaries. Previous proposals from Conservatives involved privatization of a portion of Social Security. The concept had promise–an individual would have the choice (emphasize choice to put 3% of their Social Security contribution into a private account–but it never gained traction with the American population, due in no small part to the left painting a picture of a poor individual losing their entire Social Security account to a market crash or due to some unscrupulous bankers.
Even with the warning sounded of rough seas ahead for Social Security, I predict finding common ground between the two parties on the issue will be difficult. As it stands, the Social Security trust fund is nothing more than a myth, a figurative box of IOUs from the government to the tune of $2.5 trillion. And since the government is already borrowing money (to the record tune of $1.5 trillion projected in 2011), paying those back will be challenging.
President Obama stated in his State of the Union Address that he wanted “strengthen the program while protecting current retirees, future retirees and people with disabilities,” which seems to translate to “find some more money from somewhere but don’t touch benefits.” With ideas like that, it’s no wonder there are countless Americans who figure the return on investment made into Social Security from their paychecks will end up being a big fat zero.

What to expect from the State of the Union speech

Well, we’ve come to that time of the year again where we get to hear the pleasant present state of our Union. A quick history:

Seal of the President of the United States

Image via Wikipedia

  • The first SOTU address was by George Washington on January 8, 1791 in NYC.
  • Thomas Jefferson started mailing it in in 1801.  Literally.  He began th e practic e of writing the speech and having it read to Congress by a clerk.
  • Woodrow Wilson restarted the read-in-person tradition in 1913.

So, what can we expect this evening from President Obama?  Well, one would have to assume (and hope) that the most important topic of discussion will be jobs and the economy.  No doubt he will say that the previous stimulus was a success (though there is a lot of debate about that), and maybe even mention again that if not for that, the unemployment rate would be worse.  But I’m sure there will be some discussion of bipartisan efforts to get the economy really moving.

We should also hear something about debt reduction.  This will be a tricky area for the President and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t address it at all.  The response to the report from his Debt Commission was predictable–Republicans were upset about talk of tax increases and cuts to defense, while Democrats were opposed to spending cuts and eliminating tax deductions, not to mention making changes to Social Security (even though those changes would kick in around the time today’s 4 year olds will draw retirement).  If he steps up and emphasizes that people will need to buck up and take the pain, I’ll definitely give him props.  Especially since the bulk of the criticism would come from his own party, still mad at him for caving to Republicans on the extension of the Bush tax rates and on cutting payroll taxes.

With the recent shootings in Arizona, President Obama will definitely spend some time addressing the tone of rhetoric in the political sphere.  He will probably avoid pointing fingers at one party or another, but the topic can’t be ignored.  The aide to Gabby Giffords who helped save her life is supposed to be there so expect that to be one of the bipartisan applause moments.

Speaking of bipartisan, many members of Congress, in an effort to show unity, are crossing the aisles to mix with members of the opposing party.  Some are simply sitting with members of their own state’s delegation, while others are reaching out to colleagues they have known for years.  It will be an interesting visual, especially during those times during the speech when the President tends to make a comment that one party (or the other) stands and applauds.

So, lets get the popcorn ready.

QuickHit: Just a question or 3

Why is raising the retirement age for earning Social Security such a big deal, when the changes wouldn’t be implemented until 2050 and 2075?  That means the folks most affected by the changes either a)haven’t had much chance to start contributing to social security or b)haven’t been born yet!  Further, where is this idea coming from that keeping the retirement age where it is is some kind of right?

Speaking of rights, do people realize what the concept of a “right” is?  Its as though anything that someone feels a person should be entitled to is a right, even if it involves forcefully taking time, talent, or treasure from someone else.

Is it not possible that allowing the tax rate cut for those over the $250k mark may not end up costing $700 billion over ten years?  Can we really predict how people and revenues will behave 10 years out?  If the economy improves, wouldn’t that number come down?

And finally, will someone recognize that the problem isn’t just revenues, its also spending?  That the main excuse for wanting to let the cuts expire and supposedly bring in the $700 billion is to try and fund the government WITHOUT cutting spending?

Just a few thoughts.

Politicians aren’t serious about fixing problems

President Obama has installed a Debt Commission in order to come up with ways to reduce the deficit.  The report of the commission is due in December.  Everyone knows going into this that there will be some hard decisions that will have to be made, and not everyone is going to be happy.

Wednesday, an initial copy of the Commission’s report was released.  In it they suggested many ways to get the deficit down.  Among them:

As expected, folks on both sides have gone nuts.  The idea is, yes cut the money–but not for the folks that I support!

I’ve linked to a breakdown, as done by radio host Neal Boortz.  Some don’t like him, but read it anyway, since he breaks down each of the suggestions:
Let the Games Begin.
As mentioned, the negative responses weren’t slow in coming:
Response to deficit plan–tepid to “unacceptable”.
They just aren’t serious about fixing things.