Do You Believe in the Trust Fund?


A story about Social Security reform in Friday's New York Times implicitly buys into the idea that there's no need to worry until the nonexistent "trust fund" runs out:

Some opponents of Mr. Bush's approach, mostly liberals who want to preserve the current Social Security program, said in interviews that the administration was exaggerating the scale of the problem to create an air of crisis that justified radical but unnecessary changes like creating private investment accounts.

Noting that Social Security can pay full benefits for at least 38 years, Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center on Economic Policy Research, a liberal research group, said the system's financial condition now was no worse than it has been at most points in the last few decades.

"This whole idea that Social Security needs to be fixed is false," Mr. Weisbrot said.

I don't hold the Times responsible for Weisbrot's opinion. But by accepting as a fact to be "noted" the claim that "Social Security can pay full benefits for at least 38 years," the story overlooks the crucial point that Social Security benefits are expected to start exceeding payroll taxes 24 years sooner than that. Taxpayers will have to make up the difference one way or another, since there's nothing but government IOUs in the "trust fund."