Home
In this issue
December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2011 / 8 Elul, 5771

Uncle Sam's IOUs can't save Social Security

By Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby




http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | My mother's mother revered Franklin Roosevelt. She voted for him four times, and firmly defended him decades later, when I tried to convince her that FDR was not the haloed saint she imagined.

"It's because of Roosevelt that I'm getting $800 in Social Security every month," she'd tell me. Actually, I'd reply, it was because of people like me -- younger workers paying into the system, at tax rates considerably steeper than hers had ever been -- that retirees like her were receiving those monthly checks.

But like millions of seniors then and now, Grandma was convinced that her Social Security benefits were an entitlement she had bought with her own payroll taxes years earlier. She blessed FDR for creating the Social Security trust fund in which she had faithfully invested for most of her working life, and couldn't understand why her grandson had any objection to it.

In reality there is no money in Social Security's trust fund and never has been. It is merely an accounting fiction, like the individual Social Security accounts to which workers' payroll taxes are credited. But Grandma could hardly be blamed for believing otherwise. Right from the start, Social Security was promoted to Americans as a straightforward pension fund. "We have set up a savings account for the old age of the worker," FDR told a Pennsylvania audience in 1936. Contributions would be made by employers and employees via payroll taxes, which would be "held by the government solely for the benefit of the worker in his old age."

It wasn't true. In a decision the following year upholding the Social Security Act, the Supreme Court confirmed what anyone who read the law would already have discovered: Payroll taxes weren't held by the government solely for the benefit for retirees. On the contrary: Social Security taxes "are to be paid into the Treasury like internal revenue taxes generally, and are not earmarked in any way."

Likewise, for all the talk of Social Security as an "entitlement," retirees have no ironclad right to that monthly check. "Congress can change the rules" whenever it wants to, the Social Security Administration's website acknowledges. "Benefits which are granted at one time can be withdrawn." That too was explicit in the law FDR signed in 1935. There are no "accrued property rights" in the Social Security system, the Supreme Court ruled in 1960. Payroll taxes withheld from your wages today don't confer on you a contractual right to benefits when you retire tomorrow.

Yet is it any wonder so many Americans believe the opposite? They have been assured for years that Social Security's considerable surpluses have been piling up in a trust fund worth about $2.6 trillion at last report. With assets like that, insist the status quo's defenders, there will be enough money to pay retirees' benefits for decades to come.

But the trust fund's assets are an illusion. Social Security doesn't own $2.6 trillion in gold bars or real estate or shares of Google. All it has are Treasury IOUs. Those IOUs represent $2.6 trillion that the government has already spent and promises to spend again. But in order to spend it again -- to redeem those IOUs -- Congress will have to raise taxes, cut spending, or go deeper into debt. Which is exactly what Congress would have to do if the Social Security trust fund didn't exist.

A US government bond is a sound and valuable asset -- for anyone but the US government. Just as you don't increase your wealth when you write yourself a check, the government cannot sock away $2.6 trillion by promising to pay itself $2.6 trillion. "The assets of the Social Security trust fund," the Congressional Budget Office has explained, "do not represent any real stock of resources set aside to pay for benefits in the future." The trust fund is a ledger entry, nothing more.

President Obama suggested in July that without a debt-ceiling increase, Social Security checks might not go out "because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it." Granted, he was playing political hardball. But he was also conceding the inescapable truth about Social Security's vaunted trust fund: It doesn't exist.

With the baby-boom generation beginning to retire, Social Security is projected to lose money every year from now on, beginning with a $45 billion shortfall this year. There is no trust-fund hoard to cover those losses. FDR's signature program is on a collision course with itself. My grandmother, may she rest in peace, may have believed it would last forever. My generation doesn't have that luxury.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

Jeff Jacoby Archives

© 2010, Boston Globe

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles