Atrios wrote an online column for USAToday yesterday:
We already have an excellent, if not especially generous, program in place. Workers contribute during their working lives in exchange for a promised benefit level during their retirement years. This program is called Social Security.
Instead of considering some exciting new program to try to encourage workers into saving more, another Rube Goldberg incentive contraption designed to nudge individual behavior in the right direction, we should increase the level of retirement benefits in the existing Social Security program.
That sounds like blasphemy because we’ve all been fed the myth that Social Security is bankrupt. It is almost universally accepted in policy circles and in the pundit class that strengthening Social Security involves cutting future benefits relative to what current law promises because according to current projections, Social Security only has the ability to pay promised benefits in full until 2033, and then 75% of them thereafter. The basic thinking is that we must promise to cut benefits now so that we won’t necessarily have to cut them 22 years from now. What?
Imagine if that is how we treated defense spending. Since it appears budgets will be tight in the 2030s, best to mothball all those aircraft carriers today. Who would buy that argument?
The reality is that we will make our defense decisions about the 2030s in the 2030s. That’s just how we should treat federally financed retirement programs. We never actually have to cut benefits if we make the policy choice to keep funding them.
Social security is only bankrupt to the extent that our political leaders lose the will to invest in a decent retirement for American workers.
As the system exists, large numbers of Americans nearing retirement will have little more than fairly meager Social Security benefits (the average benefit for retired workers is currently $1230) to survive on in their old age. We can doom them to a life of insecurity and relative poverty or we can take the obvious step to improve their lives: Increase Social Security benefits.
The goal of a retirement system should be to ensure that retired people have sufficient income to live out the remainder of their lives without a radical reduction in quality of life after they stop working. Our current system, a modest mandatory government retirement program combined with individual savings, is failing to do that. Strengthen Social Security now, not by cutting benefits, but by increasing them.