Late to the Seminar: Cliff notes to the AB series on Social Security

by Bruce Webb

People in comments on some of the previous threads have what are on the surface reasonable questions. These questions fall in part into two categories. Some long time followers of the Angry Bear Social Security series ask ‘Why are you still talking about this, we get it already’. While newcomers ask (and not always nicely) ‘Why are you making this so complicated, I don’t get it, it doesn’t match what I know, meaning I suspect you are just making it up.’ Well it is hard to satisfy both at the same time. So lets back up.

This series started when Dan invited me in May 2008 to present a comprehensive outline of my thinking and research on Social Security since 1997. I put forth the basic outline in posts 1-12 as listed on this index page at my blog Social Security Posts on Angry Bear About at this point I realized I was losing people so I put up a recap with The Basics Revisited & Three Myths. The series continued in a more topical and less linear form alternating between discussion of then candidate Obama’s proposals to raise the cap and discussions about how and why the larger narrative on Social Security came to be. Was it really an economic argument about the best way to achieve retirement security? Or just a way of dismantling the centerpiece of the New Deal? Well I argued the latter, in my view all of this is driven by ideology.

In any event the series carried on (and further indexed on More Social Security Posts from Angry Bear) through 33 where I basically ran out of new topics. Which didn’t stop the series instead it continued in more reactive form with me responding to other blog posts and new documents until I kind of wrapped up after 44 on August 16 with this from a post on my site:

In May I was invited to post on Social Security at Angry Bear. It was pretty rewarding and I have to thank rdan for the opportunity.

The series terminates with no. 44 not because I really have nothing left to say but instead that proceeding further kind of requires that people had been following along all the way, newcomers being kind of lost. So on the odd chance that anyone would like to read the whole series they are indexed in Social Security Posts on Angry Bear and More Social Security Posts from Angry Bear

Well it didn’t really terminate, instead there were 11 more posts in fall including some renewed discussion of ‘backwards transfer’ and ‘unfunded liability’ (which I argued were distortions meant to confuse the real issues) as seen indexed here Even More Posts from Angry Bear until I terminated the series AGAIN with the election. At this point it was blindingly clear that we were in major, major economic trouble and with Democrats in firm control surely no one would waste an instant talking about a program whose problems if any could well be addressed starting around 2029 (date not chosen at random).

Well I couldn’t have been more wrong because in January it became clear that the Social Security haters hadn’t given up. Instead they set out to make a new run which led me to put up this post on Jan. 19th Social Security ‘Reform’: the Undead Return

What does it take? A stake through the heart? A bullet through the brain? Baker and Krugman do some push-back.

And after letting the maestros have their say wrapped up the post as follows:

In my view it is practically criminal for policy makers to be wasting a second talking about Social Security given the very real possibility we are headed for a new Great Depression. And so equally criminal for opinion makers to be twisting current events to pursue this old vendetta. It is a shame that people like Baker and Krugman still have to keep a vigilant eye out for the zombies intent on eating the flesh of Social Security. Maybe we can make a deal. If the Right will simply stop taking every possible opportunity to take a bite at Social Security then I promise to shut up. And then maybe we can let Krugman and Baker continue the really important discussion.

“Social Security ‘reformers’! Report back to your graves!”

Well that deal stands, yet the undead still walk among us leading to this upcoming (Mar 2nd) article by Grieder in The Nation Looting Social Security which I linked to and commented on with Looting Social Security: (the Basics Revisited, Again) on Friday Feb 13th. Posts since then have simply been commentary on issues raised in comments.

So the answer to the question ‘Why are you still talking about this?’ The answer is that the Right didn’t take my offered deal, instead they are still gnawing away. And ‘Why are you making this so complicated?’ Well it is a complicated subject and I can’t always slow down to give remedial lessons to latecomers. It bores the people who have been following along. We welcome people who want to join the conversation, but realize that like in any seminar if you haven’t done the reading you should set quietly or put it in the form of a question. Because assuming the teacher is a dimwit who doesn’t know the simplest thing may well end up with you getting your knuckles rapped plus a reading assignment.

Those who want to avoid the knuckle rapping would be well advised to read post 1 in the series and the two linked ‘Basics Revisited’ ones. Because you may not in fact know what you think you know on Social Security.