Rick Perry’s Social Security Myth

Texas Governor Rick Perry is being rightly criticized for his loony claims about Social Security in last night’s GOP presidential debate. But what troubles me the most is this whopper: “It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there. Anybody that’s for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and it’s not right.”

What’s not right is the tired myth that Social Security won’t be there for people 25 or 30 years old. And by perpetuating this alligators- in-the-sewer fable, Perry not only wrecks his own credibility but makes it harder for Congress to fix the program. 

Here is the real story of Social Security in one sentence: It is underfunded and badly needs to be modernized but even if Washington does nothing, young people will receive three-quarters of their promised benefits. And last I looked, three-quarters of promised benefits falls somewhat short of a “monstrous lie.”

Don’t believe me? Just ask the bipartisan Social Security Trustees—even those who served during George W. Bush’s administration. Here is a link to the trustees report from 2007. This year’s isn’t much different.   

Perry is, of course, pandering to the hard core conservatives for whom the Ponzi scheme line is akin to theological text. It is something like the belief among liberals that the U.S. invaded Iraq solely to fill the coffers of Halliburton: There is no evidence that it is true, but it sounds so good it would be a shame to stop saying it.

Make no mistake, Social Security badly needs to be modernized so it better reflects the realities of the 21st century. And it isn’t hard to find the policy changes to do it. While those 30-year-olds won’t get 100 percent of promised benefits, they can come pretty close. The problem is finding the political will. And Perry’s demagoguery doesn’t help.

Gov. Perry needs to remember that he is running for president, and not national talk show host. Social Security is a serious problem that deserves to be taken seriously.