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June 13, 2005

The Gadflyer Is as Annoyed as I Am at Toner and Rosenbaum

Jonathan Weileer writes:

The Gadflyer: Fly Trap: One of the most frustrating aspects of the debate about social security is how often treatments of the issue demonstrate what seems like willful ignorance of the intensive ways in which the issues involved have already been addressed. So it goes in Sunday's New York Times, where Robin Toner and David Rosenbaum make the shocking discovery that expected increases in life expectancy need to be addressed in securing the finances of the program over the next seventy five years. They write: 'Americans turning 65 this year can expect to live, on average, until they are 83, four and a half years longer than the typical 65-year-old could expect in 1940. And government actuaries predict that American life spans will just keep growing. This demographic trend - by 2040, the average 65-year-old will live to about 85 - has major financial implications for Social Security and major political implications for the lawmakers now trying to overhaul the system.'

Incredibly, in an article which is entirely devoted to the impact of life expectancy increases on social security's finances, the authors do not, one single time, mention the fact that the Social Security Trustees (and the Congressional Budget Office) factor life expectancy increases into their assessment of the program's long-term well-being. Now, there is a debate about whether the trustees have over- or under-estimated the increase in life expectancy going forward. Robert Pear, for example, in an article written last December, marshalled evidence suggesting that the trustees have under-estimated the likely increase.

However, he provided room for experts who disagree with that assertion.... [T]here is not a single mention of that debate in the Toner/Rosenbaum piece or even, as I mentioned, an acknowledgment that the trustees have already accounted for life expectancy increases in their projections. Instead, the Toner/Rosenbaum article comprises a litany of quotes from Republicans about the dire realities facing the program, presumably counter-balanced by quotes from a representative of AARP and a democratic representative from North Dakota on why it's inappropriate to raise the age limit for drawing benefits, and from a democratic pollster about why age is a dicey political issue...

Posted by DeLong at June 13, 2005 04:54 PM