George Will told “The Big Lie” in his column this week, which I read in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review as “Off the cliff of credibility.”
Long-time followers of the pseudo intellectual Will know he is capable of telling a whopper. His Wikipedia biography details a fib he told in a 2009 article about global warming, which he was trying to prove isn’t happening by citing a learned source for a false statistic. When the learned source called Will on it, Will persisted—much like Romney persisted in his falsehood that Jeep was moving jobs from Ohio to China. Will kept repeating his fib and kept citing the source who had publicly repudiated him.
Will, who conceals his bankrupt rightwing economic hokum behind the demeanor of a coldly objective and slightly pedantic university scholar, was at his old lying tricks again this week. Either that or he really is pretty stupid.
Here’s the lie: When Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “Social Security has not added one penny to the deficit” Charles P. Blahous III, a member of the Social Security board of trustees, wrote to the Post to say that in 2012 this program will add $165 billion to the deficit because benefit expenditures exceed Social Security tax revenue by that amount and “this gap is filled entirely by revenue that the federal government borrows’.” The fact that the second-ranking Senate Democrat is off by 16,500,000,000,000 pennies reveals the sort of precise thinking that got the country into its current condition and that supposedly will produce a cure. It is enough to make you want to hop in your Fisker and drive off a fiscal cliff.
Durbin is right and Will is a liar, because he knows Durbin is right. Will knows that the payroll taxes that the federal government collects go to a special trust fund for Social Security. That trust fund has a massive surplus. It is true that in 2012, the trust fund spent $165 billion more than it took in, which is maybe the third time that has ever happened. That’s why we collect surpluses for Social Security in many years—so the money is there in the lean years.
What’s also true is that the federal government has borrowed money from the Social Security Trust Fund, and if it didn’t have to pay it back, it would be $165 billion less in the hole this year, but that’s funny math: sooner or later the federal government has to pay back what it borrowed from the Social Security trust fund to finance Bush II’s meaningless and bloody wars and to meet all of the government’s commitments during the time it was starved of funds because of the Bush II tax cuts. But that’s not Social Security creating a deficit. That’s the federal government having to pony up to pay off its debts, including what it owes to Social Security recipients.
Our big Social Security problem is that the baby boom is going through retirement and the generations behind it chronologically are significantly smaller, leaving a smaller number of people to pay into the system for those currently receiving benefits. But that problem will work itself out over time, especially when the smaller workforce increases the value of labor. All the system needs is a quick fix, and the easiest one would be to remove the cap on income that is taxed for Social Security purposes.
George Will knows all this basic information, that is, assuming that he is the student of history and of civics that he purports to be. But he would rather see the government get out of the retirement pension business, unless it is to collect the tax and give it directly to the private sector to invest on a non-guaranteed basis.
While there have always been a lot of lies and myths floating around the political blathersphere, the big lie is that the Social Security system is bankrupt or on its last legs.
For the casual follower of Will, it may seem like a shock that he tells a big fat whopper about the major source of income for most retired Americans. But to those who have followed him carefully for the last few decades, it’s par for the course. Will cloaks his inaccuracies in a fairly erudite vocabulary, but it’s the same set of lies you can hear delivered much more explicitly by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.