Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More Stupid Administrative Efficiency Arguments

"The administrative costs of the main Social Security program are 0.6 percent of expenditures. The disability insurance program clocks in a bit higher: 2.3 percent. It's all pretty lean."

I am not a senior and thus my only exposure to social security is the FICA tax pulled from my paycheck. But typically you hear that the Social Security Administration does a good job at what they do, cutting checks to people. However, in obliquely making this point Mr. Klein unwittingly points to a flaw in the measurement of administrative efficiency. The Social Security Administration cuts checks for both Social Security (Old Age Insurance) and Disability Insurance. Thus they have the same fixed costs. Then what accounts for the difference in the administrative efficiency? There are more people claiming social security than disability insurance. It's quite simple. Imagine that the typical cost of writing checks to a claimant works out to an annualized expense of $500 per claimant. The $500 is your administrative cost. Now you divide the administrative costs by the benefit check cut. The marginal cost of adding a zero to the that benefit check is essentially zero. So if the benefit were $1 million annually the percentage dedicated towards administrative costs would be 0.0005%. If the annual benefit were $1,000 the administrative costs constitute 5%. Efficiency in this manner is effectively being equated to the generosity of the benefits disbursed. This is measurement error.

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