Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"a" Gifts: Thoughts on the 2009 Trustees Report

Today, the Social Security Trustees released their annual report for 2009. It's an annual event that Meagan McArdle of The Atlantic referred to as "every journalist's favorite annual kabuki ritual."

 For those looking for the headline news, the Trustees have given the program a more bleak forecast than last year. The program is no expected to begin running deficits one year earlier, in 2017 and the Trust Fund will be exhausted four years earlier in 2034.

For those who don't want the wonkish titular explanation, please leave this post now and go read LOLFed (seriously, it's great). For the few of you left, a few thoughts.

1. Social Security "current law" crisis deniers are not putting their money on the table to support their assertions. Unlike the US general budget, the Trust Fund is accounted for seperately and only used for Social Security. In addition to taking in payroll taxes, and some intra-government transfers, the Trust Fund also accepts gifts. This year, even as Social Security turned 70, few gave. In fact the amount is a generic footnote in a table "a. $-.5 to $.5 million." Ouch. Especially since I think such gift programs could be successful at gauging public demand for government services if they were available more broadly in this line item fashion.

2.  There's no COLA, and no need for a COLA. Get over the COLA
When it comes to pop, we all know there are healthier beverage options but flavored sugar water is always tempting and ultimately unsatisfying. It's the same with COLAs (Cost-of-Living Adjustments). There be no COLAs until at least 2013 since inflation is expected to remain low.  When I say 'expected' I mean by government agencies like CBO who believe that the Fed can quickly unwind toxic, uh "legacy assets." For an alternative inflation outlook see Alan Meltzer.

Yet the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) says we need to ensure that everyone gets a COLA. I agree with NCPSSM that retirees do have a consumption basket skewed toward higher health spending. I'd also like to know that those same seniors draw on Social Security and the other program NCPSSM wants to protect. Currently, these programs serve most retirees well. 

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