Rachel Maddow and her MSNBC guests are scandalized that Rick Perry stuck to his guns that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme during the presidential debate tonight. "This kind of rhetoric will hurt him in the general elections," they reassured each other. They didn't flat out say that Perry was wrong, but actually he is. Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme. It is much worse.
Here are three reasons why:
One, a Ponzi scheme collects money from new investors and uses it to pay previous investors—minus a fee. But Social Security collects money from new investors, uses some of it to pay previous investors, and spends the surplus on programs for politically favored groups—minus the cost of supporting a massive bureaucracy. Over the years, trillions of dollars have been spent on these groups and bureaucrats.
Two, participation in Ponzi schemes is voluntary. Not so with Social Security. The government automatically withholds payroll taxes and "invests" them for you.
Three: When a Ponzi scheme can't con new investors in sufficient numbers to pay the previous investors, it collapses. But when Social Security runs low on investors—also called poor working stiffs—it raises taxes. Indeed, Cato Institute's Michael Tanner points out,
Social Security taxes have been raised some 40 times since the program began. The initial Social Security tax was 2 percent (split between the employer and employee), capped at $3,000 of earnings. That made for a maximum tax of $60. Today, the tax is 12.4 percent, capped at $106,800, for a maximum tax of $13,234. Even adjusting for inflation, that represents more than an 800 percent increase.
And given that the worker-to-retiree ratio is expected to fall from 3-1 today to 2-1 in 2030 (down from 16-1 in 1950) these taxes will only go up unless the government decides to kick retirees in their dentures and slash benefits.
Rick Perry should stop soft-peddling the issue and tell it like it is.