There are an awful lot of lies being told by the Bush administration and its allies in their battle to dismantle Social Security through privatization, but perhaps the biggest lie of all is “$11 trillion dollars.” That’s the “unfunded obligation” President Bush tells us Social Security will supposedly accrue if nothing is done to fix it:
You realize that this system of ours is going to be short the difference between obligations and money coming in, by about $11 trillion, unless we act. And that’s an issue. That’s trillion with a “T.”
It’s nice to know the president is keeping up on his spelling, but he needs to do a little more work on his math. For according to the ever useful FactCheck.org, that mind-boggling number is calculated using the Social Security Administration’s new “infinite-horizon model,” which attempts to project revenue and obligations not 75 years into the future (as has been the standard model,) or even 100 years, but… well… forever.
Sound a little silly? Well the American Academy of Actuaries, a nonpartisan group with the really boring job of setting the standards of practice for US actuaries, points out that even 75-year projections are filled with uncertainty, but an infinite projection… well that’s basically worthless. In a letter sent to the Social Security Advisory Board, the Academy is unequivocal:
The new measures of the unfunded obligations included in the 2003 report provide little if any useful information about the program’s long-range finances and indeed are likely to mislead anyone lacking technical expertise in the demographic, economic, and actuarial aspects of the program’s finances into believing that the program is in far worse financial condition than is actually indicated.
But then, that’s the whole point of the infinite-horizon projection isn’t it… to mislead Americans by conjuring up a really humongous number in order to scare us into supporting a bogus “reform” package? But how many Americans would take this number seriously if they understood, as NPR reported today, that the projection is based on the truly laughable assumption that the retirement age will stay at 67, while average life expectancy peaks at 150 by the year 2200!
150? Forget about Social Security’s unfunded obligations… how are we going to pay for all the court-ordered feeding tubes we’ll presumably need to sustain a nation of sesquicentenarians?