I was just on a conference call with more than 50 bloggers, listening & responding to some of the most experienced folks there are in the multi-decade fight to preserve Social Security. This included Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, Co-Directors of Social Security Works, Roger Hickey, Co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, and Dean Baker, Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Three things, right off the bat:
First, it's going to get ugly, fast. The oligarchs coming after Social Security have invested in this massively for decades now. Pete Petterson alone has invested a billion dollars, and is about to spend $8 million more in an advertizing scare-fest, building up to the release of the Deficit Commission recommendations & accompanying legislatvie battle.
Second, it's totally bogus. Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit (it's separately funded, duh!) and is solvent for as far as the eye can see--until well into the 2030s at full benefits, and 75% after that, which is still a larger benefit than today, even if we do nothing. If we scraped the cap on incomes taxed, so millionaires paid the same percentage tax as the rest of us, we could not only fill the shortfall decades from now, we could increase benefits by 2%.
Third, we can win this thing. Just like we've won this fight every time before, even though we were told it was a done deal. Dean Baker was especially inspiring on this point. In fact, he has a new paper out, "Action on Social Security: The Urgent Need for Delay". The press release for it says:
There is enormous public confusion (much of it deliberately cultivated) about the extent of Social Security's projected shortfall. Many policymakers and analysts point out that projections from the Congressional Budget Office and the Social Security Trustees show the program to be out of balance in the long-term, therefore we would be best advised to make changes as soon as possible. This paper argues that supporters of the existing Social Security system should try to ensure that no major changes to the core program are implemented in the immediate future. It points out that:
1.There is good reason for believing that the public will be better informed about the financial state of Social Security in the future, in part because of the weakening of some of the main sources of misinformation;
2.Many more people will be directly dependent on Social Security in the near future. These people and their families will likely be strong defenders of the program;
3.The group of near-retirees, who may be the victims of early action, will desperately need their Social Security since they have seen much of their wealth eliminated with the collapse of the housing bubble; and
4.The concern over "maintaining the confidence of financial markets" is an empty claim that can be used to justify almost any policy.
Supporting the first point, Baker said a couple of things that backed up by graphs in the paper. It's about Brad DeLong's long-hoped-for demise of the Washington Post, one of the main outposts of Social Security fearmongering and disinformation.
First, Baker told us, the Post's circulation is falling steadily:
Traditional news outlets are mostly owned and controlled by individuals who are deeply hostile to Social Security. The best example of such an outlet is the Washington Post, which regularly uses both its opinion and news pages to promote the view that the program is in crisis, that benefits are far too generous, and that large cuts are essential. As a result of having one of the largest circulations in the country and also being located in Washington, the Post is enormously influential in public debate.
However, the Post's circulation is falling rapidly. Figure 1 shows data on the Washington Post's average daily circulation from 2002 through 2010 and projects it forward until 2040. Daily circulation has already fallen from close to 800,000 in 2002 to less than 600,000 in 2010. If the Post's circulation continues its 3.7 percent annual rate of decline, then it will be under 400,000 by 2020 and less than 300,000 by 2030. It can be assumed that the paper's influence in national debates will experience a corresponding decline.
If anything, this probably understates the pace of the Post's decline. At some point, a catastrophic collapse would not be a surprise.
What's more, it's losing the online battle of the clicks to Huffington Post--losing badly, in fact:
By contrast, many of the new media outlets that are growing have a more informed and nuanced view of the program. For example, the Huffington Post, one of the largest of the exclusively webbased news sources, has many reporters and columnists who take a more balanced view of Social Security's finances.2 While circulation at the Washington Post has been shrinking, the number of web viewers of the Huffington Post has been growing rapidly. The number of viewers of the Huffington Post first began to regularly exceed the viewers of the Washington Post in the second half of 2009. By the second half of 2010 the Huffington Post was drawing almost twice as many viewers as the Washington Post, as shown in Figure 2.
This is just a quick heads-up post to let you know to expect much more in the short term, and a bit about why we should feel optimistic for the long term. A lot more info soon.
Stay tuned, and be ready to fight!
P.S. A message for Dems to consider: You think the 2010 elections were bad? Just turn your backs on Social Security. You won't believe 2012!