Social Security is NOT broken. It is NOT in danger financially or economically. It is in danger politically from people who claim it’s broken and they want to “fix it”. But the history of changes and opposition to Social Security belies their claims. I’ll deal with why SS is actually in good shape economically and financially in other posts, but here’s an excerpt from Bruce Webb at Angry Bear filling in a little of the actual history of the SS discussions:
The end result of the Greenspan Commission of 1982-83 was a compromise fix of Social Security and this has fed a myth that all parties were pre-committed to a ‘mend it’ and not ‘end it’ position. The accounts of the actual participants show this was not true, the decision to mend came after a bitter deadlock, that was broken only after Reagan concluded he didn’t have the votes to do what he wanted. Even at that it was a close thing, Reagan having committed to the deal having to do some arm twisting on some of the Republican Commissioners and still ending up with three No votes on final.
In the aftermath of what they called among themselves the ‘fiasco’ represented by the 1983 compromise, ideological opponents of Social Security literally regrouped themselves around what would become the Cato Project on Social Security Privatization (now Cato Project on Social Security Choice) and undertook a joint reframing exercise on Social Security that in one incarnation was labeled the ‘Leninist Strategy’. Rather than an open attack on Social Security as being a bad thing in and of itself, a position largely untenable at the time, they simply set out to undermine future support for it, primarily among younger workers, and selling the message that whatever you thought of Social Security in principle, that long term it was guaranteed to fail in practice, and so that while it could be patched, there was no permanent ‘mend it’ solution, meaning that at some point it would need to be addressed by an ‘end it’ or at least ‘transform it’ strategy.
Which is where we are today. The fundamental opposition to Social Security is where it has been since Alf Landon ran against it in the 1936 Presidential election, but the framing built on top of that foundation has been reshaped into one where the problem is not that Social Security is inherently bad, but that it is irretrievably broken. The problem for those opponents is that they can not concede either on ‘irretrievable’ or ‘broken’, that would simply case them to fall back on a ‘socialism’ argument that has been proven unpersuasive to a population that can say with no apparent sense of irony ‘keep government out of my Social Security’….
Go read the whole story (it’s not long) at Angry Bear.
For more details and analyses of Social Security (best site on the web) see Bruce Webb’s Social Security blog.