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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Robert Samuelson Wants to Take Money from Seniors to Make the Wall Street Boys Richer

Robert Samuelson Wants to Take Money from Seniors to Make the Wall Street Boys Richer

Sunday, 06 March 2011 21:16

Yes, Robert Samuelson is at it again, spreading inaccurate and misleading claims about Social Security to justify taking money from retirees.

It seems that for some reason he has a hard time understanding the idea of a pension. This shouldn't be that hard, many people have them.

The basic principle is that you pay money in during your working years and then you get money back after you retire. Social Security is a pension that is run through the government. Therefore Samuelson wants to call it "welfare."

It is not clear exactly what his logic is. The federal government runs a flood insurance program. Are the payments made to flood victims under this program "welfare?" How about the people who buy government bonds. Are they getting "welfare" when they get the interest on their bonds? If there is any logic to Mr. Samuelson's singling out Social Security as a source of welfare, he didn't waste any space sharing it with readers.

There are a few other points that deserve comment. He claims that the trillions of dollars of surplus built up by the trust fund over the last three decades were an "accident." Actually, this surplus was predicted by the projections available at the time. If anyone did not expect a large surplus to arise from the tax increases and benefit cuts put in place in 1983 then their judgement and arithmetic skills have to be seriously questioned.

In terms of the program and the deficit, under the law it can only spend money that came from its designated tax or the interest on the bonds held by the trust fund. It has no legal authority to spend one dime beyond this sum. In that sense it cannot contribute to the deficit. Mr. Samuelson apparently wants to use Social Security taxes to pay for defense and other spending.

If we allow for the possibility that we could impose a "Social Security" tax on workers and then use this money for other purposes, the decision to not use it for other purposes can be said to make the deficit larger. But this is sort of like saying that our decision not to steal money from disabled people makes the deficit larger. After all, if we had a policy of stealing from the disabled, then the deficit would be lower. How can anyone argue with that.

Finally Samuelson decided to get a little creative with numbers to press his case. He told readers that:

"In 2008, a quarter of households headed by people 65 and over had incomes exceeding $75,000."

That's not what the Census data show. They put the share of the over 65 population with incomes of more than $75,000 at 15.8 percent. And, almost half of these people had incomes of less than $100,000. In this context it worth remembering that President Obama put his lower cutoff for those subject to tax increases at $200,000.

So, we are reminded yet again that Robert Samuelson really doesn't like Social Security and that he is willing to make up numbers to push his case.

Comments (12)Add Comment
written by urban legend, March 06, 2011 11:35
Giving this charlatan a platform to spout thios kind of ideology-based nonsense as expert analysis is just another example of how the Washington Post management simply does not give a crap whether it misleads the public or not. We can continue to identify this pure b.s. until we are blue in the face -- and we have no choice but to keep doing it -- but the truth is they simply do not care whether they lie or not. "Fox on 15th" is unfortunately deadly accurate.
Proportion of households headed by 65+ with income over 75K
written by AndrewDover, March 07, 2011 12:50
Figure 7, "Percent Distribution by Income: 2009"
http://www.aoa.gov/aoaroot/agi...(Page 10)

Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

has 24.7% with household incomes 75K or above.
(Your reference does show around 16%)

So, a more likely scenario is that he found these numbers somewhere than "Samuelson decided to get a little creative with numbers to press his case.".

Samuelson was proposing to lower SS benefits for those households earning over 75K. If you propose raising the cap, why should high earners over 65 have a preference over unretired high earners people?
written by izzatzo, March 07, 2011 6:08
Social Security is a pension that is run through the government. Therefore Samuelson wants to call it "welfare."

Only great economists like Samuelson who majored in government in college understand that when Americans drive on public roads they're socialists receiving welfare and when they drive on private roads they're capitalists paying for what they consume.

It is Paul Samuelson isn't it?
written by Benedict@Large, March 07, 2011 6:29
I can see the editorial management of Newsweek hasn't changed much since WaPo got rid of this leper. Why don't they just get done with it and rename it "Völkischer Beobachter".
written by EMichael, March 07, 2011 8:23
If Mr. Samuelson had written this column for a Journalism 101 class, he would have received an F.

His lead is about Social Security.. His first fact is about the amount of spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Sorry, Bob. But even high school writers know better than that. If you do not think you can state your case with actual numbers about the actual program you are talking about, then you should not have written anything at all.

He merely could have stated that SS is around 20% and then made his case. But then 40% sounds so much better for his case. Amazes me people print things like this column, both in terms of style and substance.
written by Rod Hill, March 07, 2011 10:24
A fine comment exposing this ignoramus and liar (yet again). The propaganda system that employs people like him is simply evil.
boycott the WaPo
written by youngWaPoreader, March 07, 2011 12:37
How about a WaPo boycott ? is one month
abstention from www.washingtonpost.com
a good way to send a message to bozos like
Samuelson ? I have pledged myself to doing
just that in the comments of that despicable

Join me in our absence !
written by Eric, March 07, 2011 1:03
Samuelson this; Samuelson that. I think he is right on in what I take to be his major point, which is the nation should figure out how much income it wishes to send to SS beneficiaries. That could be exactly what the current law calls for or something different and that potential for change needs to be thought through in the context of the whole fiscal operation of the Federal government. It might not be in the best interest of the country to redeem the SS Trust Fund fully in the next 30 years or so. Maybe we ought to make changes that push net repemption out another decade and slows it down by 10 years on top of that. Not making changes is also a defensible position, but where the capacity to do something is clear, not doing anything is doing something, and we should hear arguments that a "do nothing something" is the best something available.
written by Hans , March 07, 2011 10:57
I listen to this man on the Dennis Paggar show and not only was he illogical but a confirmed socialist...

This man is another victim of Beltway Fever....
written by bmz, March 08, 2011 9:23
This moron apparently doesn't know that SS recipients with income between $34,000 and $75,000 are the most tax inflicted group in the country today: 1) double taxes--income taxes on both SS tax payments and benefits; 2) highest marginal income tax rate--59% on self-employment income.
written by Randy Fritz, March 08, 2011 1:40
I ask once again: Why does Robert Samuelson continue to be employed as a commentator on issues financial? By anybody?
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Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.