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August 17, 2005

Fool Me Once, Shame on You...

Paul Krugman says that the Bush record on Social Security reform carries important lessons. For, in the words of George W. Bush: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me... fool me twice... [pause] We can't get fooled again!"

Social Security Lessons - New York Times: I'd like to revisit Social Security for a moment, because it's important to remember what Mr. Bush tried to get away with. Many pundits and editorial boards still give Mr. Bush credit for trying to "reform" Social Security. In fact, Mr. Bush came to bury Social Security.... Over time, the Bush plan would have transformed Social Security from a social insurance program into a mutual fund, with nothing except a name in common with the system F.D.R. created.

In addition to misrepresenting his goals, Mr. Bush repeatedly lied about the current system. Oh, I'm sorry - was that a rude thing to say? Still, the fact is that Mr. Bush repeatedly said things that were demonstrably false and that his staff must have known were false.... [T]he administration politicized the Social Security Administration and used taxpayer money to promote a partisan agenda. Social Security officials participated in what were in effect taxpayer-financed political rallies, from which skeptical members of the public were excluded....

[This] is still going on. Last week Jo Anne Barnhart, the commissioner of Social Security, published an op-ed article claiming that Social Security as we know it was designed for a society in which people didn't live long enough to collect a lot of benefits. "The number of older Americans living now," wrote Ms. Barnhart, "is greater than anyone could have imagined in 1935." Now, it turns out that an article on the Social Security Administration's Web site, "Life Expectancy for Social Security," specifically rejects the idea the Social Security was originally "designed in such a way that few people would collect the benefits," and the related idea that the system faces problems from "a supposed dramatic increase in life expectancy in recent years." And the current number of older Americans as a share of the population is just about what the founders of Social Security expected. The 1934 report... projected that 12.7 percent of Americans would be 65 or older by the year 2000. The actual number was 12.4 percent....

[T]he campaign for privatization provided an object lesson in how the administration sells its policies: by misrepresenting its goals, lying about the facts and abusing its control of government agencies. These were the same tactics used to sell both tax cuts and the Iraq war. And there are two reasons to study that lesson. One is to be prepared.... [T]here's still room for another big domestic initiative, probably tax reform. Forewarned is forearmed: the real goals of reform won't be as advertised, the administration will say things about the current system that aren't true, and the Treasury Department will function in a purely partisan capacity...

Posted by DeLong at August 17, 2005 09:32 PM