by Dale Coberly
and Fact Checkers
Apparently the Big Liars are getting worried about the fact that “Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.” There have been a flurry of little Big Liars “proving” that in fact SS is a contributor to the Deficit. I am going to try to point out the hidden lie in a couple of these articles, beginning with the most dangerous.
Glenn Kessler ( Washington Post ) sets himself up to be The Fact Checker for the Washington Post. The trouble is, of course, that in this world every liar begins by claiming himself to be the Fountain of Truth and offers to explain things to the little people who wouldn’t be expected to know without his kind guidance and protection. The Devil, they say, can appear in the guise of a Franciscan monk when it suits his purposes.
And Kessler adopts Sweet Reasonableness for his schtick today. Why not? It works for Lyndsay Graham.
“Senator Durbin,” he tells us, says “Social Security has added not one penny to the deficit.”
Kessler explains how he previously “evaluated” similar statements and “rated” them, “true but false.” Can’t get any more fair and balanced than that. But Kessler is worried that this “true but false” statement will lead readers to forget that “Social Security’s a long term issue that can’t be deferred.” I hope you notice how we are gently being led into the swamp. Most Washington Post readers will not notice. These are, after all, the people who took on mortgages they couldn’t afford because “house prices can only go up.” And of course were blamed for their foolishness later by the very people who sold them the mortgages.
Update: Also see Jamie Galbraith
explains why the WaPo’s so called fact checkers is wrong as well, in addition criticizing “sensible liberal” takes on middle class and what works.
But Kessler doesn’t “mean to pick on Durbin since plenty of Democrats in recent days have made similar comments.”
Ah, see how fair we are being. Can’t blame Durbin, because all the Democrats are doing it.
But Kessler “remains troubled.. given the further decline in Social Security’s finances in the past year.” Note we get this “further decline” as an established fact that we don’t have to question. We will not even be given time to ask whether this “fact” bears on the question of SS contribution to the deficit. Remember, that’s where we started.
And of course, more sweet reasonableness: “we do not think this is a slamdunk falsehood as some people believe, but it is certainly worth revisiting”… in order to convince you dear reader that while it is not false, this “talking point” is not true. See, we are just saving you from being misled by that fast talker over there.
Then Kessler gives us a list of “facts,” which are true enough to establish his credibility as a fair truth checker. While he leads us ever so gently by the hand to his disturbing conclusion: You see, all that money coming into Social Security from interest on the Trust Funds “is simply paid with new Treasury Bonds.”
Leading to the inevitable conclusion that SS does indeed increase the deficit. You see, if you borrow money and you have to pay it back, that “increases your deficit.”
I hope… without hope… that what is wrong with this is obvious to the (my) reader. But just in case: paying back money you owe does not increase your debt. It decreases it. Even if you borrow money to pay back the money you owe someone else, you do NOT increase your deficit… you just exchange one debt for another. And in any case… the person you borrowed from did NOT increase your deficit. YOU did. And if you try telling him you are not going to pay him back because that would increase your debt… he may send the boys around to break your knees. And you would deserve it.
But Kessler regards this as “a matter of Theology.” I guess it is, some people regard paying their debts as something like Thou Shalt Not Steal. Others, like Kessler, regard not paying your debts… especially if they are owed to old ladies who can’t break your knees… as simply “good business practice.”
And of course, my debt is her fault because she lent me the money.
But, he says, some say “this is just paper shuffling among different parts of the U.S. government.” Those people who paid into the Trust Fund to pay in advance for their own retirement “benefits” don’t exist. The government is some kind of Monolithic “person” that only owes money to itself. The “government” has no relationship of trust whatsoever to the people it calls “citizens” or “taxpayers.” It’s theology: “the government giveth and the government taketh away.” or in this case, the “government borrows and the government stiffs the people it borrowed from.” We are not expected to notice that the government borrowed from workers to give tax breaks to the rich, and that not paying back the workers will save the poor hard working job creators from the indignity of paying back what they borrowed (through the government they paid for). Or, heaven forbid, that the money the United States of America borrowed had nothing to do with creating, or protecting, “our” ability to make more money in the (now present) future so we could afford to pay back what “we” borrowed. Nah, that would sound too much like the “government behaving like a business.”
Kessler says, oh so reasonably, “What matters is whether Social Security is generating enough money to pay for its bills on its own. The plain fact [we are, after all, fact checkers] is that it is not.”
This is a lie. It is in fact a damned lie. Social Security “generated” the money to pay for its bills on its own. It lent a temporary excess of that money, those taxes, to The United States of America. Kessler says that Social Security cannot cash its bonds to pay for its bills… because that would, you see, force the United States of America to find some money to pay its full faith and credit obligations with. And we all know the United States of America is broke, flat busted. Where would The United States of America find that kind of money?
See, “White House budget documents… show that … Social Security outlays exceed Social Security payroll taxes, thus boosting the bottom line federal deficit.” Well I would not want to accuse the White House of keeping two sets of books, but if you refuse to count the money Social Security already collected in payroll taxes and saved for just such a recession as we have today… and can say with a straight face that “outlays exceed taxes” while pretending the interest on previous taxes does not exist… you are a goddamn liar.
You want to watch out for damned liars who call themselves Fact Checkers and lead you with sweet reasonableness to your own destruction.
[Kessler hints at, but sweetly does not go into, the “fact” that the payroll tax holiday causes Social Security to contribute to the deficit. This is also a lie, but more subtle. It is not Social Security contributing to the deficit. It is the tax “holiday.” The tax holiday is NOT Social Security. It is the opposite of Social Security. In fact it might best be understood as what would happen if the Liars succeed in cutting Social Security. At some point people will not have enough SS benefits to live. At that point the Congress may have to pay “welfare” to those people out of the general fund (the deficit). Will they then blame Social Security for causing the deficit? Of course they will. Because the “fact checkers” will have taught them they can say any damn thing they please, and the people won’t be able to do anything about it.]