Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Social Security Trust Fund

Arnold Kling describes the trouble with the social security trust fund pretty well in responding to Felix Salmon:

"Felix Salmon writes,

'the obligations of the [Social Security] trust fund aren't tangible obligations fungible with other government debt. But at the same time they are obligations: they oblige the government to issue debt in the future, insofar as its tax revenue won't be able to cover its pension promises.'

A trust fund = an obligation to borrow? If your uncle Louie told you he was setting up a trust fund for you, and its assets consisted of his obligation to borrow the money, how secure would you feel?

On the other hand, you may feel confident that Uncle Sam will always be able to borrow. Don't be so sure. A few months ago, one might have thought that Uncle Freddie and Aunt Fannie would always be able to borrow. That ended rather suddenly.

What do you like better about Sam? His balance sheet? His management team?"

This is one of the things I have never understood when those who claim that Social Security is not a problem or even has a strong financial position. The trust fund presently has $5 trillion dollars worth of obligations that we have pissed away. These are funds that will have to be paid out between 2018-2040. To state Social Security's finances are in sound shape presumes faith in the taxpayers willingness to accept higher marginal tax rates to redeem those bonds in the trust fund. I don't share that faith.

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