John Tierney, the Times new conservative columnist, has another column on Social Security today jumping on to the president's new bandwagon. His premise is that Democrats are "aghast" at the president's 'new' Social Security proposal because he "has finally called their bluff." He's proposing a way to make big cuts in Social Security while still protecting the poor. And as Tierney goes on to explain, this has given the lie to the established arguments for Social Security, which Democrats commonly make.
Tierney's piece is woven through with various misleading arguments, which you'll probably be able to catch when you read it. But look more globally at the argument that he, taking the president's lead, is now embracing.
The privatizers have spent almost six months arguing that Social Security is bad as an investment plan because it doesn't have a high enough rate of return. Now they have taken to arguing that it is bad as a welfare program because it gives too much to those who aren't poor.
Social Security is also, I'm willing to concede, an abysmal hair dryer. But the point isn't relevant.
And here we have the essence of the matter. In their effort to phase out Social Security, privatizers continually try to evaluate it in terms of something that it is not. Tierney reveals his own assumptions and prejudices by claiming that Social Security is simply a poorly designed old age welfare program that unwisely provides benefits for middle class people too.
Social Security is neither a poorly designed welfare program nor an investment plan with a poor rate of return. And the privatizers are losing this national debate because Americans, overwhelmingly, understand that.
Social Security is a defined-benefit Social Insurance program that provides a baseline level of retirement security for everyone. Middle class people pay into the program during their working lives and they get benefits back when they retire.
That is not a flaw in the design. That is the design.
By a decisive margin, Americans understand that system and they approve of it. Yet it is a system that offends the sensibilities of privatizers like Tierney.
So their attempts to bamboozle continue apace.