Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Associated Press

I've said before that the corporate media's distortions are often a matter of tone or emphasis rather than fact; but sometimes they just lie.  Today I found in my local paper a full page Associated Press story on Social Security, reporting that "the government" says that Social Security will "run dry" in 2033, three years earlier than previously predicted.  This is not only false, it's a falsehood that has been advanced and refuted many times over the past decade and more.

I had a bit of trouble finding an online link for the story: the local paper and the Christian Science Monitor ("Social Security Fund: Cash Gone by 2033"), Newsday, and other sites require registration or jumping through various hoops to read it.  But here's a link.

Yesterday PBS had a faux debate between an advocate for Social Security, Nancy Altman, and someone who wants to dance on its grave, David John of the Heritage Foundation.  Host Ray Suarez spoke of the "economic swoon of 2008-9" as a factor in the program's declining revenues.  "Swoon" seems like a tendentious understatement; something like "kneecapping" would have been a better metaphor, it seems to me.  And it's true, earlier more optimistic projections of Social Security's future were based on a higher (but still very conservative) assumption about America's economic growth.  The crash of 2008-9 put paid to such an assumption, and Republicans and Democrats have been collaborating assiduously to keep growth (though not corporate profits) hobbled; but I don't think that's intended purely to damage Social Security -- it's the general well-being of American workers (employment, wages, hours, etc.) that is the target.

What will happen in 2033, as even the AP story admits, is not that the trust fund will run dry, run out of cash, be insolvent, etc.  What will happen is that Social Security will still be taking in payroll taxes, which will enable payment of about 75% of benefits.  (The story further confuses things by combining Social Security and Medicare, two different programs with different problems.)  And as FAIR pointed out of another recent attack on Social Security, this isn't a problem "unless you believe the money in the trust fund won't be paid back to taxpayers."  Dean [Baker] wrote, "This is the same situation the government faces when Wall Street investment banker Peter Peterson or any other holder of government bonds decides to cash in their bonds when they become due. In such cases it 'must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors.'" Our corporate media pundits have no objection to Pete Peterson or other wealthy people's cashing in their government bonds to get the money that is owed them -- only ordinary citizens like you and me.  And as the the pundit Baker was criticizing tacitly conceded, the trust fund could be built up by various means if the People Who Matter wanted to; the trouble is that they don't.  Social Security is a thorn in their sides -- not because it costs them anything (it's self-financing), but because it apparently drives them crazy to see the hoi polloi deriving benefits from their government, as if they were real people.

As I indicated before, the AP story isn't anything new; it's just the latest installment in the long propaganda war against Social Security and other government programs which protect the interests of the vast majority of American citizens, as opposed to those which support the tiny majority of the most well-off.  But it's propaganda that many of us believe, so it needs to be answered every time.