April 28, 2012

How the media has twisted the Social Security issue

Columbia Journalism Review - Shortly after the 2010 midterm elections, Washington Post budget correspondent Lori Montgomery reported that, while a debate raged around major budgetary changes and the wisdom of cutting Social Security, a “surprisingly broad consensus is forming around the actions required to stabilize borrowing and ease fears of a European-style debt crisis in the United States.” A consensus among whom, we asked? Ordinary people who like Social Security the way it is, opinion leaders, or the reporters who record what those opinion leaders say?

Gallup polls dating back six decades consistently show some 70 percent of the public strongly supports Social Security. Most Washington opinion makers think otherwise, though. Indeed, listening to the politicians and policy gurus, one would conclude that this most basic of retirement programs for nearly all Americans is in grave danger, and America itself is in grave danger because of it.

For nearly three years CJR has observed that much of the press has reported only one side of this story using “facts” that are misleading or flat-out wrong while ignoring others...

To be sure, Social Security is not in perfect financial health. But the fact is, the program can pay full benefits until 2036, and three-quarters of the benefits after that without new revenues. Many experts believe small fixes like lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes—$110,100 for 2012—will make Social Security solvent for decades. But that option is not on Washington’s table, nor has it been discussed much in the press. Why not? Because it doesn’t fit into the doom-and-gloom narrative that has proved politically expedient to tell?

...“The elite press repeatedly quotes the commentary of the devoted opponents of social insurance retirement programs,” says Yale professor emeritus Theodore Marmor. “But they appear unaware of how they are supporting a strategic attack on social insurance that has been going on for years.”

...When, last year, the congressional supercommittee was attempting to cut a deal on Social Security, the Post noted that “crunch time” came with “a new round of self-centered, shortsighted intransigence on the part of AARP and its fellow don’t touch-my benefits purists.”

Samuelson has made these points before. In 1988, writing for Newsweek, he argued Social Security is a welfare program. In 1996, also in Newsweek, he seemed to challenge Bill Clinton “to alter the debate on ‘middle class entitlements.’” Earlier this year in the Post, Samuelson asserted “spending on the elderly is slowly and inexorably crowding out the rest of government.”

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1 comment:

Dan said...

The most important piece of the story was buried in the very last paragraph:

". . . Peter G. Peterson, an arch-foe of Social Security who has tried to get the media to see things his way."

There is no deficit problem -- we could pay off the entire national debt tomorrow -- but Pete Peterson has been spending his billions on a propaganda campaign against deficit spending. He donates to pols on both sides of the aisle, and to think tanks on both sides of the aisle.

For the answers to the alleged deficit problem, talk to an MMT economist.