Soc Sec XXXII: Means Testing as a Trojan Horse

Somehow the concept of means testing has entered the Social Security dialogue right along side that of cap increases. Don’t let people trick you into going down that path. Each seems on the surface to be a reasonable and progressive step but instead they are being dangled in front of you by people opposed to Social Security to begin with.

The strength of Social Security is precisely in its insurance model. Eliminate the cap without increasing benefits and you move it to a welfare model. Means test it and you do the same thing in any even more exaggerated way. These people simply want to undercut political support for Social Security among the upper middle class by removing their stake in the system.

I bring this up because this has been floated by two people I consider to be trolls on this issue, one here and one at another site. Plus it seems to be floating around in the outside world to the point that is sparked a column in Newsday GRAY MATTERS: Do the wealthy deserve Social Security benefits? (the columnist was opposed to means testing). All of which leads me to believe it is a talking point that is being deliberately spread, which then leads me to want to nip this right in the bud.

Social Security is a carefully balanced political mechanism, once people get it in their heads to tinker with it there is a good chance it will end up broken beyond repair. As Dean Baker warned us in Phony Crisis

We have a chance, said President Clinton, to “fix the roof while the sun is still shining.” He was talking about dealing with Social Security immediately, while the economy is growing and the federal budget is balanced. The audience was a regional conference on Social Security, in Kansas City, Missouri, that the White House had helped bring together.

The roof analogy is illuminating, but we can make it more accurate. Imagine that it’s not going to rain for more than 30 years. And the rain, when it does arrive (and it might not), will be pretty light. And imagine that the average household will have a lot more income for roof repair by the time the rain approaches.

Now add this: most of the people who say they want to fix the roof actually want to knock holes in it.

So when someone comes at you with a proposal for a means test, make sure they aren’t hiding a sledgehammer.