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Should Washington Leave Social Security Alone?

Ezra Klein likes to think so. In Newsweek he urges lawmakers not to mess with Social Security in order to restore balance to the federal budget.

Popular wisdom has it has Social Security is financially unsustainable. Klein disputes that. He notes that, over the next 75 years, the program’s shortfall will equal approximately 0.7 percent of GDP. That isn’t a crisis, he attests. “It’s a question of priorities.”

Both Democrats and Republicans in Washington agree that raising the retirement age is part of the solution. “We live longer, and so we should work longer,” writes Klein. But he doesn’t agree. “Most people,” he believes, “by the time they’re in their 60s [...] want to retire.” Evidently, because they want to, they should be able to. “We have more than enough money to buy ourselves some leisure time at the end of our lives. At least if that’s one of our priorities.”

What Klein conveniently neglects to consider is that it’s not people buying themselves some leisure time at the end of their lives; people working today are forced by their government to pay for other people‘s leisure with the thin and evermore uncertain assurance that there’ll be workers just like them, paying for their retirement in the future.

But let’s take up Klein’s challenge and pretend that organizing people’s pension plans is a “priority” of government. All we need to solve now is find out how to pay for it! According to polling data, some two thirds of people oppose raising the retirement age. Instead, a little over 60 percent are in favor of eliminating the cap on payroll taxes so that workers who are better off pay the tax on their full income. Presumably, that 60 percent wouldn’t be the ones affected by what amounts, effectively, to a tax increase.

It’s always easy to spend other people’s money and Ezra Klein is no exception. His solution to fixing Social Security’s long term unsustainability is to have the rich pay more. It takes him three pages to cloud that proposition in praise of Social Security’s efficiency and egalitarianism along with complaints of Washington’s detachment from ordinary Americans but that doesn’t change the fundamental premise of his argument: that the more you make, the more you pay.

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