Social Security: The Big Lie

I wish everyone would read Paul Romer's “Preferences, Promise, and the Politics of Entitlement,” in Individual and Social Responsibility, edited by Victor Fuchs.

Romer tells the story of exactly how concerted and intentional is the deceptive rhetoric of Social Security. The ideas of SS as “insurance,” the payroll tax as “contributions,” and the “trust fund” were purposeful rhetorical ruses deployed to lock in political support for the program. The point was to create the illusion that a tax plus a regressive transfer from the young to the old (which could not have maintained political support) is instead a form of social insurance, which it manifestly is not. The illusion — the lie — has succeeded brilliant. Indeed, Romer's paper suggests that Social Security may be the best example of purposefully deceptive framing for political gain in the history of the United States. (That's the lesson I take from it, in any case.)

Unfortunately the paper is not exactly online, but you can probably make your way through it using the Amazon “Search Inside” function (link above).