In Thursday night's debate, Paul Ryan did not directly support privatization or say the word, but the echo of his past statements in that regard was clarion:
If we don't shore up Social Security, when we run out of the IOUs, when the program goes bankrupt, a 25 percent across-the-board benefit cut kicks in on current seniors in the middle of their retirement. We're going to stop that from happening.[...]That spurred Biden to note, twice, during the debate:
For younger people. What we said then, and what I've always agreed is let younger Americans have a voluntary choice of making their money work faster for them within the Social Security system.
[W]ith regard to Social Security, we will not -- we will not privatize it. If we had listened to Romney, Governor Romney, and the congressman during the Bush years, imagine where all those seniors would be now if their money had been in the market.Just how far Mitt Romney would go in privatizing Social Security, or a piece of it, is unclear. He's backed private accounts in the past. But he has never been anything like a full-throated supporter of that idea. And he's studiously avoided taking a stance in favor during the current campaign.
But Ryan supported partial privatization in 2004-05—the Bush plan—and led the charge for moves in that direction in 2010 with his "Roadmap For America’s Future" proposal. Under that plan, not only would benefits be reduced, but also a portion of Social Security payroll taxes would be directed into private retirement accounts. Call it a political experiment. Once that is approved, plans can be made to implement the next step: additional privatization. The Ryan budgets of 2011 and 2012 that House Republicans so strongly backed had roots in the "Roadmap." But the GOP wasn't yet ready to push its Social Security and Medicare changes.
Economist Brad DeLong points out the problems with the 2005 Bush Social Security-privatization plan that Ryan backed:
It would have whacked a hunk out of existing Social Security, provided no protection for people who invested their Social Security money and lost it all, and it was set up "so that the government was basically lending you your Social Security benefit money at an interest rate of 3% plus inflation--and requiring that you pay it back."
The numbers of the Bush plan were such that it meant that an awful lot of people older than 70 would be destitute under such a system—but for a Randite like Paul Ryan, destitution of the unthrifty (and unlucky) old is a virtue.If the Romney-Ryan ticket were somehow to overcome the odds and ride to victory in November, Paul Ryan wouldn't be president, of course. But his influence on budgetary matters would presumably be significant. Nowhere are his prescriptions more damaging than when it comes to the social safety net. From Social Security and Medicare to food stamps, he has adopted the let-the-devil-take-the-hindmost approach to economics. For those of us already eligible for Social Security, that might not matter, although that too is arguable.
What's not arguable is the impact on younger Americans. Ryan's proposals would wreck the country's most crucial and most effective social program and put at risk the population it was designed to shield from the worst ravages of an impoverished old age. Not the sort of fellow who ought to be one heart attack away from the presidency.