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Posts Tagged ‘social security’

Under current law, Social Security is supposed to be an “earned benefit,” where taxes are akin to insurance premiums that finance retirement benefits for workers. And because there is a cap on retirement benefits, this means there also is a “wage-base cap” on the amount of income that is hit by the payroll tax.

For 2011, the maximum annual retirement benefit is about $28,400 and the maximum amount of income subject to the payroll tax is about $107,000.

It appears that President Obama wants to radically change this system so that it is based on a class-warfare model. During the 2008 campaign, for instance, then-Senator Obama suggested that the programs giant long-run deficit could be addressed by busting the wage-base cap and imposing the payroll tax on a larger amount of income.

For the past two years, the White House (thankfully) has not followed through on this campaign rhetoric, but that’s now changing. His Fiscal Commission, as I noted last year, suggested a big hike in the payroll tax burden. And the President reiterated his support for a class-warfare approach earlier this week, leading the Wall Street Journal to opine.

Speaking Tuesday in Annandale, Virginia, Mr. Obama came out for lifting the cap on income on which the Social Security payroll tax is applied. Currently, the employer and employee each pay 6.2% up to $106,800, a level that rises with inflation each year. …Mr. Obama didn’t hint at specifics, though he did run in 2008 on a plan to raise the “tax max” by somewhere between two to eight percentage points for the top 3% of earners. …most of the increase could be paid by the middle class or modestly affluent—i.e., those who merely make somewhat more than $106,800. A 6.2% additional hit on every extra dollar they make above that level is a huge reduction from their take-home pay. If the cap is removed entirely, it will also mean a huge increase in the marginal tax rates that affect decisions to work, invest and save. In a recent paper for the American Enterprise Institute, Andrew Biggs calculates that this and other tax increases Mr. Obama favors would bring the top marginal rate to somewhere between 57% and 68% when factoring in state taxes. Tax levels like these haven’t been seen since the 1970s.

Obama is cleverly avoiding specifics, largely because the potential tax hike could be enormous. The excerpt above actually understates the potential damage since it mostly focuses on the “employee” side of the payroll tax. The “employer” share of the tax (which everyone agrees is paid for by workers in the form of reduced take-home wages) is also 6.2 percent, so the increase in marginal tax rates for affected workers could be as high as 12.4 percentage points.

This video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, narrated by yours truly, elaborates on why this is the wrong approach.

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Yesterday was the 129th anniversary of Charles Ponzi’s birthday. Normal people don’t celebrate the birth of con artists, but a tediously left-wing columnist at the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson, must be a big admirer of Charles Ponzi, because he seems very happy that people don’t want to “cut” entitlements.

According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, three-quarters of Americans would oppose significant cuts in Medicare or Social Security.

The poll was dishonest, of course, since it was based on the Washington’s dishonest definition of budget cuts. In reality, the reforms that are being proposed would reduce the growth of spending. And I suspect that voters, if asked whether it is reasonable to have Medicare grow 5 percent each year rather than 7 percent each year, would provide more rational answers.

Heck, we already have good polling data showing that people support Social Security reform.

But public opinion is not the key issue. The bigger topic is whether anybody should be celebrating a government program that is actuarially bankrupt, particularly when it hurts minorities, penalizes job creation, and discourages savings.

But that’s just what some politicians are doing.

I’ve already posted a very funny cartoon about Bernie Madoff and Social Security, but hopefully this video has more substantive arguments for reform.

 

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One of my presentations at CPAC addressed America’s long-term entitlement crisis. I was part of a panel organized by the National Taxpayers Union, and I discussed how to solve the long-run fiscal problems caused by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

The lighting and focus leave something to be desired, but hopefully my message is crisp and clear.

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I’m disappointed, but not surprised, to read in the Washington Post that President Obama has decided against any changes to restrain Social Security spending. He’ll still probably subject us to pious and insincere rhetoric about fighting red ink in tonight’s State-of-the-Union address, but it is very revealing that the President is rejecting even the recommendations of his hand-picked Commission.

More than two months after his deficit commission first laid out a plan for reining in the national debt, President Obama has yet to embrace any of its controversial provisions – and he is unlikely to break that silence Tuesday night. …the president’s decision not to lay out his own vision for reducing the national debt has infuriated balanced-budget advocates, who fear that a bipartisan consensus for action fostered last month by Obama’s commission could wither without presidential leadership. …Liberals…applauded the decision, arguing that Social Security cuts are neither necessary to reduce current deficits nor a wise move politically.

I won’t be surprised, though, if Obama proposes in his budget to increase the Social Security payroll tax burden. That’s an idea he endorsed during the 2008 campaign.

The right approach, by the way, is not just cutting benefits, but rather letting younger workers shift their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts, as explained in this video that was released earlier this month.

But the President’s reluctance to touch Social Security is only part of the story. The White House actually intends to push for more government spending. Only they won’t phrase it that way. The President will claim the new spending is an “investment.” But Senator Durbin of Illinois committed a gaffe and admitted this is just a repeat of the failed stimulus.

“It’s part of a stimulus. but we’re sensitive to the deficit,” Durbin said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked by host Chris Wallace about the president’s expected plans to call for more spending for infrastructure, education, research in his State of the Union address Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress.

I’m not sure why people are talking about a new, centrist-oriented Obama. Recycling big-government proposals is hardly a sign of fiscal restraint. And ducking-and-running on entitlements hardly seems to indicate a new era of fiscal responsibility.

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There are two crises facing Social Security. First the program has a gigantic unfunded liability, largely caused by demographics. Second, the program is a very bad deal for younger workers, making them pay record amounts of tax in exchange for comparatively meager benefits. This video explains how personal accounts can solve both problems, and also notes that nations as varied as Australia, Chile, Sweden, and Hong Kong have implemented this pro-growth reform.

Social Security reform received a good bit of attention in the past two decades. President Clinton openly flirted with the idea, and President Bush explicitly endorsed the concept. But it has faded from the public square in recent years. But this may be about to change. Personal accounts are part of Congressman Paul Ryan’s Roadmap proposal, and recent polls show continued strong support for letting younger workers shift some of their payroll taxes to individual accounts.

Equally important, the American people understand that Social Security’s finances are unsustainable. They may not know specific numbers, but they know politicians have created a house of cards, which is why jokes about the system are so easily understandable.

President Obama thinks the answer is higher taxes, which is hardly a surprise. But making people pay more is hardly an attractive option, unless you’re the type of person who thinks it’s okay to give people a hamburger and charge them for a steak.

Other nations have figured out the right approach. Australia began to implement personal accounts back in the mid-1980s, and the results have been remarkable. The government’s finances are stronger. National saving has increased. But most important, people now can look forward to a safer and more secure retirement. Another great example is Chile, which set up personal accounts in the early 1980s. This interview with Jose Pinera, who designed the Chilean system, is a great summary of why personal accounts are necessary. All told, about 30 nations around the world have set up some form of personal accounts. Even  Sweden, which the left usually wants to mimic,  has partially privatized its Social Security system.

It also should be noted that personal accounts would be good for growth and competitiveness. Reforming a tax-and-transfer entitlement scheme into a system of private savings will boost jobs by lowering the marginal tax rate on work. Personal accounts also will boost private savings. And Social Security reform will reduce the long-run burden of government spending, something that is desperately needed if we want to avoid the kind of fiscal crisis that is afflicting European welfare states such as Greece.

Last but not least, it is important to understand that personal retirement accounts are not a free lunch. Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system, so if we let younger workers shift their payroll taxes to individual accounts, that means the money won’t be there to pay benefits to current retirees. Fulfilling the government’s promise to those retirees, as well as to older workers who wouldn’t have time to benefit from the new system, will require a lot of money over the next couple of decades, probably more than $5 trillion.

That’s a shocking number, but it’s important to remember that it would be even more expensive to bail out the current system. As I explain at the conclusion of the video, we’re in a deep hole, but it will be easier to climb out if we implement real reform.

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A picture says a thousand words.

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Back during the presidential campaign, Barack Obama proposed several tax increases. Some of those tax hikes, such as the proposed higher income tax rates on investors, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and other “rich” taxpayers, have received a lot of public attention.

But it’s also important to guard against stealth tax hikes, and Obama’s proposal to increase Social Security’s “taxable wage base” is a dangerous example. The video below explains the details of this scheme to subject more income to the Social Security payroll tax – and thus substantially increase marginal tax rates and penalize economic growth.

This issue has not received much attention in the past two years, and Obama hasn’t bothered to include anything specific in his budgets, but this may be about to change. The Chairmen of the President’s Fiscal Commission just put out a report endorsing a big increase in the scope of the payroll tax. And this was followed just today by a similar proposal for a steep tax hike from the Domenici-Rivlin Debt Reduction Task Force (as if copying Greek fiscal policy will lead to less red ink, but that’s another blog post).

As discussed in the video, this would be an unfortunate development. Bad tax policy. Bad economic policy. Bad entitlement policy. Bad Social Security policy.

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