"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." --Bishop Desmond Tutu

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Social Security and the so-called "unfunded liability"

Angry Bear is quickly turning out to be my favorite economic blog. In this coherent and insightful analysis, Bruce Webb explains why there is no such thing as an "unfunded liability" in Social Security. It's an illusion. A trick of the light, as it were.
Seen properly 'unfunded liability' is just a fictive artifact stemming from the Trustees having to assume current law. If they are able to pay full benefits they are obligated to do so, to that extent there is a liability. But it is limited, if Congress decides to fund that liability it will be paid, if Congress deliberately decides not to the liability goes away.

It is useful and even crucially important to understand the gap between projected revenue and projected cost at the point of Trust Fund depletion. It is equally useful but not particularly important to examine that gap in some future year. What is not useful is to sum up those amounts and hang them like the Sword of Damocles over our heads. The summed gaps are not legal liabilities because Congress is free to eliminate them. Now some might consider them moral liabilities and potentially the needed changes would lead to some political liabilities for that future Congress, but the notion that every child born in America automatically inherits $150,000 in unfunded debt is hooey. Because before 2041 actions will be taken to either fund that debt or write it off and poof that 'Unfunded Liability' vanishes.

1 comment:

Bruce Webb said...