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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press The Case for Defunding NPR: Promoting Scare Stories on Social Security

The Case for Defunding NPR: Promoting Scare Stories on Social Security

Tuesday, 09 November 2010 05:55

Would a prominent public figure be allowed on NPR to defame a major U.S. corporation without challenge? For example, could a cabinet official assert that Microsoft is the main cause of global warming, with no evidence whatsoever to support this position, and not have anyone point out that this charge lacks merit? My guess is no.

Which raises the question of why Colorado Senator Michael Bennet was allowed to tell listeners on Morning Edition that if something is not done soon there will be no Social Security benefits for people his age (45). There are no, as in zero, nada, none, projections from any source that show Social Security will not be able to pay Mr. Bennet and his age cohort larger benefits (adjusted for inflation) than what retirees are receiving today.

That's right, you can look at projections from the Congressional Budget Office, from the Social Security trustees and any number of private sources and every last one shows that in any remotely plausible scenario Social Security will be paying benefits that are higher than what current retirees receive long after Senator Bennet passes into history.

This means that either Mr. Bennet is clueless about the financial status of the country's most important social program or he deliberately misled listeners. This issue would have been pursued by a serious news organization, instead of just passing along Mr. Bennet's falsehood unquestioningly to unsuspecting listeners.

Comments (24)Add Comment
written by izzatzo, November 09, 2010 6:23
Sir. You have insulted my Predictionhood with socialist smears of cowardly uncertainty math not worthy of any degrees of freedom, much less a confidence interval produced by the Commie CBO.

I challenge you to a duel on NPR. Choose your weapon, Baysian Probability Inference or Discrete Zeros and Ones No-Guessy-Guessy Whole Numbers.

Sir Michael Bennet XIII, Grand Prince
Teabagger Knights of Capitalist Widgets and Other Stuff
written by bakho, November 09, 2010 6:38
Long, ago, NPR made its name by finding relatively unknown policy wonks and putting them on the air. Now NPR trades on insider gossip and political spin the same as other news organizations. We don't need another mainstream news clone.

More Wonk. Less Hack, Please.
written by Ron Alley, November 09, 2010 6:58
NPR - once again caught on a downhill slide.

I once enjoyed their programming. Now, more often than not, I just tune it out.
Would any news organization say.....
written by Bob Spencer, November 09, 2010 7:07
I wonder if any news organization would ever say that corporations would rather not pay into Social Security, and they want the system to go away so that they can keep that money.
Sigh...once again, Dean falls into the conservative trap..., Low-rated comment [Show]
Benefits are only half of the story.
written by AndrewDover, November 09, 2010 8:48
Look, SS is worse for younger people under current law. Any argument based only on benefits is misleading because the taxes paid matter too.

The CBO shows it compactly in Exhibit 15 of

For example, the 1940s generation lowest quintile benefit level is 140% of taxes. For 1960, about 115%.

By comparision, the median quintile for the 1960s generation is 65%, and highest quintile 55%.

Each generation in each quintile gets a lower average benefit-to-Tax ratio than the older group.

The dark blue is for "scheduled" benefits, and the light blue is "payable", in other words what happens when the trust fund runs out around 2040.

Yes, Bennet was talking nonsense. But it is still true that SS is a worse deal for the young than the old with payable benefits.
Reply To Andrew
written by jd, November 09, 2010 9:09
Your statement "The dark blue is for "scheduled" benefits, and the light blue is "payable", in other words what happens when the trust fund runs out around 2040" is incorrect it doesn't run out, still pays out at 75-78%
No, the statement is correct
written by AndrewDover, November 09, 2010 9:44
The CBO, you and I all agree on the facts:
Around 75% of benefits will still be paid even when the trust fund empties around 2040 because there will still be payroll taxes collected.

The difference between payable and scheduled benefits is showm in exhibit 4.
SS is both pension and insurance
written by Marvin, November 09, 2010 9:47
As Andrew notes, the present value of retirement benefits paid out is less than the present value of taxes paid in for the median quintile of the 1960s generation. But that is in part because SS is not just a pension plan, it is also an insurance plan. If for any number of reasons (e.g. medical) one ends up in the lower quintile of the lifetime income distribution and tax payments, one still receives a substantial benefit. The lifetime value of this insurance policy needs to be added to the actual benefits paid out in order to properly compare taxes and benefits.
written by NeilS, November 09, 2010 9:49
Please don't talk about defunding NPR, even in jest.

At least they are trying to get the story right. Compare that to Fox of the WP.

I just finished reading Sarah Palin's commentary on the Fed along with comments by NR readers. It is hard to know what is more troubling: SP's or the readers' ignorance.
written by NeilS, November 09, 2010 9:50
Fox or the Washington Post
written by yuan, November 09, 2010 10:54
Corporate sponsorship now accounts for almost a third of NPRs budget. And in 2004 NPR accepted a 225 million dollar gift from the Kroc family of Mickey D's fame. The corporation for public broadcasting remains completely dominated by wingnut Bush appointees evidently with Obummers approval. CBP provides 23% of NPRs funding.

Earlier this year I listened in amazement as All Things Considered allowed a right wing crank to piss on Zinn's grave during his obituary. I think this shameful broadcast epitomizes the depths to which this organization has sunk.

written by yuan, November 09, 2010 10:59
"At least they are trying to get the story right. Compare that to Fox of the WP."

Talk about damning with faint praise.

I grew up listening to NPR but I cannot bear to listen any longer. On some days market talk, in particular, makes CNBC and Fox look good.

Shut NPR and CBP down!
written by PeonInChief, November 09, 2010 11:18
Well, there won't be any benefits if Senator Bennet and his colleagues vote to cut them.
written by diesel, November 09, 2010 11:53
I can still distinctly recall the day of and the days following the launch of the American air attack on Iraq (2nd). Despairing of hearing anything resembling fairness on any of the major media outlets, I tuned into NPR for what I hoped would be less jingoistic coverage. As I listened, my stomach literally churned with the same feeling I got when I read of Reagan's defeat of Carter for the presidency. There was no where to turn. We were trapped.
written by Peter T, November 09, 2010 5:33
Public opinion has shifted to the right, and NPR is following the shift in choosing the people they interview. For an example of the shift: when Romney changed healthcare in Massachusetts in the 90s, he avoided intentionally a Medicare model - when Obama introduce Romneycare in the whole US recently, the Republicans didn't want even that model anymore.

I still think that NPR is far above Faux News, and one of the few reliable news sources left. Being on radio that can be listented to in a car or while working has protected them so far from the pressures that have squeezed other mainstream media.
written by Jeff Hoffman, November 09, 2010 7:44
Apart from the weekends, the only time I get to tune in to NPR is in my car to and from work. I'm a donor. I want them to succeed. But I'm getting sick and tired of them interviewing some character from George Mason University as if he is a top tier economist rather than a right wing/libertarian pundit from a third rate school. Don't need to hear that. Not sure I'm writing the check this year. I just don't need to be paying for that level of quality.
written by sherparick, November 09, 2010 8:57
The sad thing is that Senator Bennett is ostensibly a liberal Democrat who has just won reelection (barely) over a tea bagger, Ken Buck. Sadly, his views about Social Security are little different then Ken Buck's because, as Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler joins Dean Baker in pointing out, the so called "liberal" media has just repeated truthy memes that were originally propagated by right-wing think tanks like Cato and Heritage about Social Security being doomed. Bennett is just repeating a what he reads in the Washington Post and the New York Times. If its written there it must be true right? Someone should tell him he would be better off reading Dean, Calculated Risk, and Angry Bear.

As he noted in last Thursday's Howler, "... Obama was reciting a hackneyed meme which had long been a standard part of our discourse. By the start of 2009, our political discourse was riddled with such hackneyed, unintelligent notions. By 2009, nonsensical claims defined our discourse—had done so for a very long time.

Krugman understands all this, of course, and he has fought against it We’ll only say this: Whatever was true about Obama’s state of mind, a president can’t change such a ludicrous discourse by himself. In a functioning world, that task would fall to other players—to columnists, professors, lesser politicians, to people depositing checks from “think” tanks.

But our discourse doesn’t work that way—hasn’t worked that way for a very long time. Consider the fall of 2000. At that time, Krugman tried, in three separate columns, to note that Candidate Bush was baldly misstating the basic facts about his own budget plan. But so what? The rest of the “press corps” sat and stared, including the “liberals” at his own paper. They wrote about Gore’s sighs instead. They clowned and fooled all through that campaign, and for many years after. (Meanwhile, Gene Lyons’ “Fools for Scandal” had appeared in 1995.)

Krugman made an accurate observation, three separate times. But by the fall of 2000, our discourse didn’t run on such fuel—hadn’t done so for a very long time."
written by sherparick, November 09, 2010 9:03
Barry Rithholz at "The Big Picture" starts to join Dean in "Beating the Press:"

"...But why does it take a blog (or two) to call out the bullshit in her speech? Why doesn’t the Journal point out how “this is factually incorrect, this is wrong, and this is nonsense.?”

Therein lies the Future of media, in one delightful microcosm: The MSM tosses out thin gruel, while a blog — their own blog ! — debunks it a as empty headed nonsense."

Bennet is a coward. The people of Colorado deserve better.
written by Robert Baillie, November 09, 2010 9:27
It's most unfortunate that he will be in office another 6 years now.

On the other hand, with his fat Congressional pension, he won't need Social Security anyway.
Bennet and NPR
written by Pikes Peaker, November 09, 2010 10:58
I voted for Bennet over Buck, but for Romanoff in the primary. I fear he's really just another corporate blue dog.

NPR gets worse with each passing week. More often than not, I now listen to music during my commute rather than their DC insider cocktail gossip. Cokie Roberts, Andrea Mitchell, and Mora Liarson need to be let go...
Here they go again!
written by John H. McCloskey, November 10, 2010 4:31
From the peanut gallery, Messrs. Spencer and Dover revive the sort of SS discussion that the selfservatives of 2000-2005 loved to rehearse: "Look, son, it’s a lousy deal, the R.O.I. is awful. Give ME the money to play with instead, and I’ll make sure you get ... [insert customer’s Dream of Avarice here] ... times as much by the time you croak!"

(Spencer underestimates his ‘corporations’, I fear: they don’t just want it to go away, they aspire to positively replace it. At least on the bucks intake side.)

Sonny did not fall for it that time around. Perhaps he was too busy playing with the supposed value of his McMansion at the time. We all (and especially Dr. Baker) know how THAT turned out. Avarice dreams eternal, however, and thus it is no surprise that offers to give you the Brooklyn Bridge and the Táj Mahal in return for your pension contributions are reappearin’, like the vultures at Hickley OH every spring. [1]

It won’t be long, I betcha, before the same good folks (you know who they are) will be clamorin’ once again to show you how to cure your solvency problems forever with real-estate speculation.

(( I’ve never seen it pointed out, but the two, SS & RE, do seem to go together, as being the only pools of gamblin’ fodder that conmen and neocons can hope to wrest away from millions and millions of customers/patients/victims -- a far more promisin’ long-term arrangement that occasional hits on individual godzillionaires. ))


My bad attitude about such shenanigans will be clear, and it follows that I would not like to watch a Democratic administration pander to them officially even when they do it what Mr. Dover calls ‘compactly’. Compact or diffuse, Exhibit 15 is so unnumerical, and the write-up so unintelligible, that I am not sure why the officials stuck it in. Is "Lifetime benefits as a percentage of lifetime payroll taxes" a coherent object of investigation in the first place? If so, does one investigate it with "500 simulations in which most of the key demographic and economic factors in the analysis vary according to historical patterns"? What ARE these people doing?!

Well, Mr. Dover thinks they are proving "that SS is a worse deal for the young than the old with payable benefits."

OK, maybe, but the proof only raises questions about the value of the CBO notion of "payable benefits" (defined on page 4): "Benefits as calculated under current law, reduced as necessary to make outlays equal the Social Security system’s revenues. Upon exhaustion of the Social Security trust funds, the Social Security Administration would reduce all scheduled benefits such that outlays from the funds would equal revenues flowing into the funds."

This does not sound very actuarial to me, but more as if the CBO has swallowed certain assumptions of the militant extremist Republicans about never raisin’ taxes. Specifically, about not raisin’ taxes in ... in 2039, I think they think it will be, if I have decoded Exhibit 7 (p. 17) correctly.

(( Q. Can the CBO guess the politics of 2039 in 2010?
(( A. Why not, sir? Don’t you believe in expertise? ))

Meanwhile, the Dover Hypothesis about "a worse deal for the young" perhaps scarcely needs proof. In one direction, it follows (does it not?) from the demographics of the Baby Boom

In another direction, the young are perfectly CERTAIN to get less out, should His Eminence Ronpaul Ryan I of Janesvillestán (for example) ever get to wreak *his* way. [2]

Happy days.


[1] http://j.mp/9RsoGh

[2] http://j.mp/9nQs4Z
written by AndrewDover, November 10, 2010 8:04
There is no additional insurance benefit that effects only the 1960s group over the 1940s group. Although the 1960s median quintile group is 65% indicating a loss for participating in SS, the point I wanted to make was that 1940s group was about 75% and the 2000s group was about 55%. For "payable" benefits the ratios decline for each income group. Hence the "payable" scenario is worse for each younger generation. Hence Mr Baker is not giving you the full picture by only talking about benefits and ignoring the higher payroll taxes the younger groups have been paying.

No assumptions have been swallowed. CBO just has an obligation to use current law to make projections. So it made two projections, one for the promises SS has made (Scheduled), and one for the promises Congress will keep without changing the law. (payable) Thanks for looking at the data.
The media I trust (less)
written by KadeKo, November 10, 2010 1:06

At least they are trying to get the story right. Compare that to Fox of the WP.

But Nice Polite Republicans aren't interested in breaking the narrative of anything Beltway Inbred. If tomorrow all they did was interview Dean Baker, followed by Brad DeLong, followed by William Grieder, followed by Matt Taibbi, followed by Paul Krugman, with no Cato or AEI asswipes for "balance", the day after that it would change nothing about any story they'd file on Social Security: It would still be about it being in "crisis".

Yuan: CNBC is like the house channel which appears on the TV in a Las Vegas hotel room: No matter what's happening in the market or to your finances personally, it's always a good time to gamble.

It is not the place to go to for coverage of the economy for us "little people".

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About Beat the Press

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.