Social Security

Social Security Is Totally Secure. Or Is It? A Debate.

A Soho Forum debate over the trustworthiness of the $3 trillion trust fund


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Given Social Security's nearly $3 trillion trust fund, the system cannot add to the federal deficit.

That was the topic of a public debate hosted by the Soho Forum in New York City on June 17, 2019. It featured Teresa Ghilarducci, a labor economist at the New School for Social Research, and Gene Epstein, the director of the Soho Forum. Reason's Nick Gillespie moderated.

It was an Oxford-style debate, in which the audience votes on the resolution at the beginning and end of the event, and the side that gains the most ground is victorious. Epstein prevailed in the debate by convincing 35 percent of audience members to change their minds.

Arguing for the affirmative was Ghilarducci, whose 2018 book, Rescuing Retirement, advocates individual guaranteed retirement accounts for workers. Ghilarducci's 2015 book, How to Retire With Enough Money, is a practical guide to financial security in retirement. Ghilarducci is the director of The Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, a think tank that studies the government's role in the economy.

Epstein argued for the negative. Epstein is the Soho Forum's director and the former economics and books editor of Barron's. His last published book was Econospinning: How to Read between the Lines when the Media Manipulate the Numbers. He has taught economics at the City University of New York and St. John's University, and worked as a senior economist for the New York Stock Exchange.

The Soho Forum, which is sponsored by the Reason Foundation, is a monthly debate series at the SubCulture Theater in Manhattan's East Village.

Music: "Modum" by Kai Engle is licensed under a CC-BY creative commons license.

Produced by Todd Krainin.

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  1. Given Social Security’s nearly $3 trillion trust fund, the system cannot add to the federal deficit.

    There is no “trust fund”. There is a piece of paper in a file cabinet that says “the US tax payer owes the SSA $3 trillion plus interest”. The upshot is that retirees are paid out of future taxes; it’s a simple, direct intergenerational transfer via the government.

    1. Younger folks should be prepared for an increase in their SS taxes withing the next 8 years.

    2. it’s unbelievable that anyone would use the word “trust fund” with a straight face to describe that fiction.

    3. Furthermore the Supreme Court has ruled that, legally, there CANNOT BE a ‘trust fund’; the way the federals laws are structured, the government MUST place SS revenue into the general fund. And people I respect who are said to understand the Law say that regardless fo the political composition of the Court, this is right.

      Social Security isn’t ‘going broke’ it IS broke. Constantly.

    4. Absolutely, like saying I have a surplus in my right pocket to make up for the deficit in my left pocket. It is essentially the same game Enron used to fraudulently boost their earnings and rightfully led to their downfall.

  2. Younger folks should be prepared for an increase in their SS taxes within the next 8 years.

  3. I thought that was SNL doing Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.

  4. Setting aside for one moment the profoundly silly stipulation that a ‘trust fund’ actually exists in any meaningful form…

    What is it with headline writer’s argumentum-ad-twelveyearold choice of the ‘totally secure’ descriptor???

    Nothing is totally secure. The specie in my safe is not totally secure – not from common criminals, nor (as US history has shown us) from governmental criminals either. It’s a stupid (and inaccurate) way of framing the argument that was presented.

    1. What is it with headline writer’s argumentum-ad-twelveyearold choice of the ‘totally secure’ descriptor?
      Be thankful it wasn’t a pun.

  5. Kinda silly to argue about a trust fund that is now and always will be worth exactly zero.

    1. It is worth as much as the paper money in your wallet/safe/mattress.
      It is backed by the full faith and credit of the USA. The money is in government bonds, just like you buy at the bank. These just happen to be a specific type of bond issued once a year specifically for the trust fund.
      Now log off and get back to work to pay the taxes!

      1. “It is backed by the full faith and credit of the USA. ”

        To the extent that they honor the political promise to pay out bennies, then yes, it will be backed by the full faith and credit of the currency.

        But, it’s fundamentally it’s still nothing more than a political promise. They can choose not to honor it. Then it won’t dilute the currency.

        I just wouldn’t count on the latter. The history of the entire world is one of government controlled currency debasement.

      2. Truth is it is a promise from your children and grandchildren to pay you, just as is 100% of your benefits. Not one cent of what you paid in tax is there for your retirement. All been spent as required by the original charter of SS signed by FDR. Read it for yourself at

  6. >>>That was the topic of a public debated (sic)

    premise fail.

  7. My back of the envelope calculation.

    Compounded at around 5%

    The government owes me around 2.5 million

    I will be more than agreeable to a settlement in that range.

    Otherwise get off my lawn kiddos.

    1. The promised rate of return for those born after 1960 that live to the average lifespan is 2.1% and the system is 23% short of the money to pay that meager return. The next tax increase/benefit cut to close the shortfall will reduce it to about 1.6%. That is less than the long term average of 2% rate of inflation so a negative real rate of return is the immoral burden we leave to our children. We should be thoroughly ashamed.

  8. Social security is about as secure as a condom with a hole in it.

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