Tuesday, March 02, 2004

How people who, from their accomplishments, HAVE to be extremely intelligent can yet write monumentally stupid things - especially within their area of expertise - has always puzzled me. Strangely enough, I have noticed this with far more frequency from the Left, though those on the Right certainly make a solid effort to hold up their end on occassion. In general, I would say that the more partisan and less temperate someone is, the more likely they are to expose themselves to well-earned ridicule.

And what widely read person - with the credentials to make you believe he MUST be intelligent - is more partisan and intemperate these days than Paul Krugman?

He wrote in today's column:

"the Social Security system is currently taking in much more money than it spends. Thanks to those surpluses, the program is fully financed at least through 2042."

Um, let me put this gently - What the HELL is he talking about? Social Security is "fully financed" to 2042"??? Is that in that lockbox that Gore was droning on about in 2000? Where exactly is that kept? Sorry Paul, but that money is SPENT. I giant stackfull of IOUs doesn't really count. Where exactly is the money for those going to come from?

As a 36 year old, I've known for half a lifetime that I would never see any of "my" "retirement funds". Tens of thousands of dollars now, not including any potential appreciation.

This also reminds me of yet another of my pet peeves - supposedly intelligent people who seemingly believe that these types of economic projections, DECADES into the future, are even somewhat accurate. What happens to this projection as cancer is by and large cured over the next 10 years? What happens when the causes of heart attacks and other serious ailments are discovered and countered? What happens when the effects of aging are better understood and we possibly begin to learn to halt and/or reverse them?

It seems to me that with average lifespans set to increase by 10, 20 or more years within the forseeable future, SS as we know it is about to be in a serious cash crunch, and a hell of a lot sooner than 2042 too. And let's not forget the other hidden estimates that had to have gone into whatever figure Krugman is relying on here:

1. Birthrates over the next several decades. How much confidence should we put into this guestimate?
2. Economic growth, also over several decades. How accurate were such estimates from the early 70's? What would someone have estimated the future to hold in the midst of Reagan's recession? Hell, what were people estimating for the future just at the end of Clinton's term?
3. Unemployment rates. SS taxes are only collected from people who work, after all.
4. Average retirement ages.
5. Future changes to the income level caps on SS taxation, and the timing thereof
6. Future changes to payout amounts and possible changes with regard to eligibility (means testing, raise in age to begin receiving it)

I'm sure there are others, but these are the most important ones. So how much uncertaincy is there in that estimate that Krugman is throwing around as a fact? Enough to more properly term it a wild assed guess.

PS You know, I just realized how we could solve the Social Security ponzi scheme problems AND our budget deficits in one fell swoop: Take the money out of wherever Krugman says they've stashed it for this "fully financed" program and have our Senators invest it. Just think what the roughly 22% compound interest could fund within only a couple of years! Why, we could soon eliminate taxes entirely and just run the government off of the nation's investment income.