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Talking about the benefits of expanding, not cutting, Social Security isn't just limited to the lefty blogosphere any more. It's been gaining traction in wonkier circles recently, largely in thanks to a report from the New America Foundation. That report, which directly confronted the conventional wisdom in D.C. that Social Security will bankrupt the nation, has helped to change the conversation, just a little, among people who think and write about social policy.
Washington frets endlessly over the problems that Social Security and Medicare, both of which are projected to exhaust their trust funds in the coming decades, might cause the budget. But two new reports underscore the serious problems they might solve for the country.
Take Social Security. For years, pension experts have spoken of the “three-legged stool” of retirement savings: Social Security, employer pensions and private savings. In recent years, however, that stool has begun to wobble, and today, Social Security is basically the only leg holding it up. [...]
It has become common in Washington for wonks and politicians alike to lament the public’s resistance to cutting Medicare and Social Security. But that resistance is there for a reason: These programs work extraordinarily well. Social Security has been wildly successful at raising living standards for the elderly, even as other forms of retirement savings have grown shakier. Medicare is cheaper than private health insurance, and has seen its costs grow more slowly, to boot. We’ve gotten so used to thinking of our entitlement programs as problems to be solved, we’re missing all the problems they can solve.
Why is that significant? Partially because the Washington Post, where Klein writes, has been consistently and egregiously in the business of pushing the Pete Peterson brand of conventional wisdom, that social insurance programs have to be cut to be saved. Just see the years of reporting on the economy from Lori Montgomery to witness that. Klein is bucking the WaPo line, and good for him for doing it. He's also someone who the Very Serious People take seriously, and he's contradicting their very conventional wisdom.
But it's also good to see because President Obama is a really big fan of Klein. White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer says of the Wonkblog, it's "a smart look at politics and policy. [...] It takes serious things seriously.” One has to hope that President Obama sees this post from Klein and recognizes it as serious. Because the retirement crisis facing the nation's middle class seniors is very real, and the problem isn't that their Social Security is going to run out. It's that every other source of retirement security they have is failing. Now, with the economy still in tatters and so many facing a very insecure future, is not the time to be cutting Social Security. It's time to expand it.
The more serious people talking about the real retirement crisis and the need to expand Social Security, the better.