Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Beware hidden assumptions – as in, "Everybody knows Social Security is (a) in trouble, (b) bankrupt or (c) will expire next week." In fact, "everybody knows" very little on this subject because the arguments about the system's future are built on complex, long-term economic models that can easily be thrown off by a single year. And if there's one thing the economy does with some regularity, it is confound expert predictions. Demographic changes, population growth and many other variables also influence how the models are drawn.
A second problem is that reporters of all kinds and stripes are notoriously weak on math. The Nation's Calvin Trillin says his trouble stems from his failure to convince his math teachers that many of his answers were meant in an ironic sense. I sometimes have to call John Pope of the New Orleans Times-Picayune just to make sure that going from 40 percent to 60 percent is still an improvement of 20 percentage points, and also a 50 percent improvement.
This debate is landmined with Phony Fun Facts. One notorious scare tactic is to note that when Social Security began, there were 42 workers for each retiree. Now, there are three workers per retiree. And in 25 years, there will be only two. Ergo, we're doomed. Actually, at the "frightening" current rate of three workers per retiree, the system is producing a surplus and being skimmed to finance the rest of the federal budget. Alas, Al Gore's famous "lockbox" got lost along with a lot of hanging chads in Florida.
You can read the rest here. Please take time to read it, and tell your friends. Don't let these grand thieves get away with perpetuating this myth -- it's important to spread the truth as an antidote to so much raging bullshit.