More Like SocialIST INSecurity, Amirite?

In case you thought otherwise, the NR editors will set you straight: The Medicare and Social Security Reports Are Nothing to Celebrate.

The Medicare and Social Security trustees’ reports illustrate the same thing they do every year: These programs are not financially sustainable and will require reforms if they are to continue to exist.


Social Security’s insolvency date is the same as in last year’s report, 2033. Current law would require a 21 percent benefits cut in 2033 if nothing changes between now and then. The likelier outcome, which the Congressional Budget Office assumes would happen, is that Congress would borrow more to keep benefits funded.

That might sound like an okay outcome, except that the borrowing from Medicare and everything else will still be ongoing, and upward pressure on interest rates will continue to increase. How long will investors continue to lend trillions of dollars to the Treasury, largely to fund entitlement programs, on favorable terms?

The problem, of course: "Investors" expect to get paid back in actual money. I know I do.

At Reason, Eric Boehm notices the obvious: Social Security and Medicare Are Going Insolvent. Neither Biden nor Trump Has a Plan for It.

Neither of the two men most likely to be elected president in November has anything that could properly be described as a workable plan for addressing the approaching insolvency of America's two largest entitlement programs.

This week's news from the Social Security and Medicare trustees ought to underscore just how foolish that is. On Monday, annual reports from the officials charged with running the two old-age entitlement programs confirmed once again that the clock is ticking for both: Social Security is expected to hit insolvency in 2035, while the portion of Medicare that pays for hospital visits and other medical care will be insolvent by 2036.

Even though both projected insolvency dates have slightly improved since last year—when the trustees expected them to run out of cash reserves by 2034 and 2031, respectively—the seriousness of the problem cannot be ignored. When Social Security hits insolvency, beneficiaries will face an automatic 21 percent cut in benefits. The insolvency of Medicare's Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will trigger an automatic 11 percent cut, which would "likely lead to significant disruptions in health care services for older individuals and those with disabilities," according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

It's worth underlining that point. Those benefit cuts are not the result of future choices that might be made by Congress and the president—they are baked into the current status quo of the two programs. Without policy changes, they will eventually become a reality.

Another advocate for facing up to fiscal reality is a onetime public trustee for Social Security and Medicare, Charles Blahouse, writing at Discourse, strongly suggesting Reforming Social Security Now, Before It’s Too Late.

The 2024 edition of the annual report of the Social Security trustees was released on May 6, 2024, and its conclusions are sobering. Approximately 21% of scheduled benefits lack funding, a figure that includes future payments for current beneficiaries. If corrective action is much further delayed, continued solvency will be for all practical purposes unachievable, meaning that the current design of Social Security will need to be abandoned. If that happens, it will not be because Americans signaled a desire to scrap Social Security’s current structure, but because lawmakers dithered past the point where repairs could fix the problem. This would be a scandalous abdication of public responsibility.

It’s important first to step back and remember what the trustees’ reports are meant to tell us. They are not just an abstract accounting exercise, but instead convey the magnitude of the changes needed to maintain Social Security in its current form. That form is of a contributory insurance program that provides income to an insured worker who departs the workforce due to old age or disability. It is financed via separate payroll taxes that are tracked in dedicated trust funds, apart from the rest of the federal budget.

Social Security is not welfare; workers rich and poor alike contribute payroll taxes to it, rich and poor alike are eligible for benefits and individuals’ benefits are a mathematical function of their previous contributions. Benefits by law are paid only from the trust funds, not from the government’s general fund. This allows beneficiaries to assert that they earned and paid for their benefits (at least in the aggregate), unlike welfare programs wherein some people get benefits based on their need without paying taxes, while others pay taxes without ever becoming eligible for benefits. Social Security’s unique design renders its payments more secure and reliable than welfare benefits. This design also means that the program’s surrounding politics are fundamentally different as well. In welfare, the terms of eligibility are constantly renegotiated because of the collision of interests between recipients and taxpayers. By contrast, Social Security participants can count on their benefits because of the shared perception that they have been earned.

The problem being… well, folks like Ed Mosca, who writes for Granite Grok. He's not a fan of any of that fancy-shmancy "discussion": Democrats Are Deliberately Destroying America ... But Let's Talk About "Entitlement Reform"!

Ed is objecting to a previous Grok article by a different author, who posed thirteen questions for GOP congressionial candidates in NH-02, one of which was "Would you share specific recommendations for entitlement reform?"

There is NO constituency in America for cutting Social Security except for “traditional” GOP like Mitch McConnell who wants to use the money to engage in forever-wars and GOP-mouthpieces who think that voters don’t understand the scam. Voters do NOT want “entitlement reform.” They want an end to the forever wars. But, not surprisingly, ending the forever-wars … like the proxy-war we are currently fighting and losing in Ukraine … does not make the list of the “13 questions” the 2nd-CD election should be about.

Any GOP candidate who is talking about “entitlement reform” and not talking about ending the forever-wars is NOT a serious candidate AND has NO CHANCE of winning.

Unfortunately, Ed might be right on the political reality. I'd put it slightly different: there's no electoral constituency for fiscal sanity; any politician that dares talk about it will get pilloried for pushing grandma off a cliff in her wheelchair.

Further, totally expected result: the increasing tendency of our "successful" politicians to be lying, narcissistic, delusional, hypocritcal, pandering, stupid, bonkers, demagogic, power-hungry, … well, you get the idea. I bet you could come up with some adjectives yourself.

Also of note:

  • Don't eat anything with a face. Especially a bug face. Jeff Maurer brings the funny truth about Ron: Ron DeSantis Wants Us to Know That He Is a Big, Tough Beef Boy.

    Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign did not go well. He won zero states and spent $6,832 per vote, which is probably worse than how a horse with a sign hanging around its neck that says “I will give you $6,832” would have done. He was humiliated when he seemed to be wearing lifts in his boots, which — as far as Republican primary voters are concerned — is about 2/3 of the way to moonlighting as a drag queen named Rhonda Scandalous.1 Even Vivek Ramaswamy mocked his manliness, which is a bit like having Larry Nassar write an open letter to the New England Journal of Medicine questioning your ethics.

    Maybe that’s why last week, DeSantis showed everyone that he is a big, burly, rough-and-tumble steak stud by banning the production or sale of lab grown meat in Florida. You see, lab grown meat is a product that may exist one day. If it ever does, it could be cheaper and better for the environment than regular meat, plus we wouldn’t have to blast Zuckerman’s Famous Pig’s brains against the wall with a bolt pistol. This first-in-the-nation law ensures that any change in our 10,000 year-old meat production system won’t happen in Florida. Florida’s main exports will continue to be C-plus meth and airbrushed t-shirts with alligators on them, and hopefully the people of Florida are okay with that.

    You may notice that this law violates about 20-30 nominal conservative principles. DeSantis is stifling innovation, getting the government involved in free market, and “picking winners and losers” by protecting ranchers. Plus, even though DeSantis and other Republicans have spent the past two years complaining so much about food prices that an 18th century French peasant would probably say “tone it down”, DeSantis is outlawing a product that people might one day want to buy. This is a heavy handed, anti-free market, anti-conservative move, significantly more severe than Michael Bloomberg’s effort to reduce soda sizes in New York, which Republicans reacted to as if Bloomberg had implemented Prohibition times a hundred.

    That lonely conservative magazine, National Review, confirms that last bit: What was DeSanctimonious thinking? Florida’s Meat-Mandate Hypocrisy.

    Announcing the new law, DeSantis proposed that “Florida is fighting back against the global elite’s plan to force the world to eat meat grown in a petri dish or bugs to achieve their authoritarian goals.” In concert, the governor’s office declared that the State of Florida had taken “action to stop the World Economic Forum’s goal of forcing the world to eat lab-grown meat and insects.”

    Odd as it may sound, it’s true that the ultimate aim of many of those who champion lab-grown meat — or, rather: lab-grown “meat” — is, indeed, to decree that the people of the world enjoy diets that they would never choose of their own volition. Bill Gates, who has invested heavily in this industry, has said “all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic meat” and suggested that governments could “use regulation to totally shift the demand.” Preventing this sort of dystopian intervention into people’s diets is a worthy endeavor. But there is a profound difference between fighting back against mandates and prohibiting consumer products per se, and, here, Florida has done the latter. In so doing, the state has taken a wholly worthwhile cause — the cause of individual choice — and sullied it with an unlovely combination of hypocrisy and two-bit protectionism.

    Jacob Sullum also points out the lack of conservatism (let alone libertarianism): Ron DeSantis Says Letting People Buy Cultivated Meat Is Like Forcing Them to Eat Bugs: Florida's Protectionist Ban on the Nascent Industry Sacrifices Conservative Principles in the Name of a Culture War That Politicizes Everything.

    When he signed the nation's first ban on cultivated meat last week, DeSantis said he was "fighting back against the global elite's plan to force the world to eat meat grown in a petri dish or bugs to achieve their authoritarian goals." That bizarre, Orwellian spin, which portrays legal restrictions on consumer choice as a blow against authoritarianism, illustrates how right-wing virtue signaling — in this case reinforced by protectionism — compromises conservative principles by turning even activities as mundane as a trip to the supermarket into a political issue.

    I'm pretty sure nobody could make me eat bugs, though. Not even Bill Gates.

  • Hey, anyone remember Subway Jared? If you don't, Wikipedia does. Anyway, it seems that Subway Jared could do a better job than current chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Jared Bernstein. David R. Henderson discusses Jared Bernstein's Basic Confusions. His take on this interview:

    Jared says, “The government definitely prints money and it definitely lends that money which is why the government definitely prints money and then it lends that money by selling bonds.”

    You can tell by watching him that Jared is playing for time while he consults the hard drive in his head. It’s as if he’s saying to himself, “I know the answer; I can get this.”

    Unfortunately, he doesn’t.

    First he conflates printing money and lending money. The Fed does print money. Score one for Jared. But it doesn’t lend that money. It typically uses that money to buy bonds that the Treasury has already printed and sold to the market. It does this in the form of open-market operations, something you can learn about even in an introductory Money and Banking textbook. My guess, by the way, is that Jared has never even studied an introductory Money and Banking textbook. You’ll see why I say that in a minute.

    Second, the Fed does not “lend that money by selling bonds.” When the Fed sells bonds, it’s not lending. You might think it’s borrowing. But that’s not true either. Once it sells bonds, the owner of the bonds is owed money by the Treasury, not by the Federal Reserve. (Notice that Jared talks about the federal government without ever distinguishing between the Treasury and the Fed.)

    You might want to go back up to the top of this post and reread the Social Security/Medicare stuff at this point.

  • Tick tock or not? Our local TV station relays a warning from Your Federal Government: Real IDs required for travel in 1 year.

    Which I won't excerpt.

    Instead, I suggest you read Jim Harper at AEI: No, the REAL ID Deadline Is Not in One Year.

    According to a slew of minor media reports, one year remains before the REAL ID deadline. On May 7, 2025, the story goes, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will begin turning American travelers away at airports if they don’t have an ID card that meets federal standards.

    Well, there are government programs, and there are laws. The operative law here is a law of politics: Don’t anger the people.

    That means that the REAL ID deadline will recede once again, as it has time and again since Congress passed a statute creating a national ID. Congress tasked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with implementing it by commandeering state identification policy and state departments of motor vehicles.

    Pun Salad's first post on REAL ID was back in 2005, when the blog was only a few months old. Bad idea then, as now. The initial deadline for implementing REAL ID was 2008.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-05-10 6:14 AM EDT

The First Rule

(paid link)

I have the hardcover, which I devoured when it came out back in 2010. But now it's one more feat accomplished on my "Reread Robert Crais" project. For better or worse, my memory for plot details tend to fade to zero with time, so it's like reading a brand new book! What I said back then still applies, slightly edited:

This novel concentrates on one of Crais's continuing characters: Joe Pike. Crais introduced Pike years back as the sidekick to Elvis Cole, the World's Greatest Detective. (That's what he calls himself, but it's arguably true.) Pike was the stoic but deadly yang to Elvis's chatty, wise-cracking yin; he'd be called in when Elvis needed stealthy backup and massive amounts of well-aimed firepower. Recently, Pike has come into his own; in this novel, Elvis is the sidekick. And doesn't do any wisecracking here, it's a pretty serious mission.

Specifically: The premise is a truly horrific crime: a home invasion where (seemingly) all inhabitants are brutally murdered. Unfortunately for the bad guys, the head of household was once a member of Pike's "team": a semi-mercenary group of consultants tasked with security in various world hot spots. And (worse) one of the victims is a kid who had been named after Pike.

What follows is a pretty good detective novel, interlaced with episodes of quick action and a few dizzying plot twists. You don't want to mess with Pike, or his friends.

Also appearing here: Jon Stone, who's on the side of the good guys, but clearly damaged goods.