Chris Christie’s Bad (and Old) Social Security Ideas

Chris ChristieSome conservative ideas are bad like raising the retirement age. It is just a way of cutting social security benefits without actually saying so. And given that the poor don’t live as long as the rich, it is an extremely regressive way of cutting social security. It would be far more fair to just cut how much money people get. But that would be admitting that it is a cut. Obviously, we need to call this sort of thing out. Delaying retirement by two years is what all the Republican candidates (except Trump) want to do. But at least it would save money.

But there is a whole other level of wrongness. I thought Chris Christie put out the proposal very well at last Thursday’s debate. After saying that we must “first” raise the retirement age because, hey, everyone’s doing it, he said, “Secondly, we would [means] test Social Security for those who are making over $200,000 dollars a year in retirement income, and have $4 to $5 million dollars in liquid assets saved.” This is what passes for hard nosed thinking in the Republican Party. It sounds good because obviously such people wouldn’t be hurt. And it seems to say, “See: I’m going after the rich!” But it really doesn’t.

Look at the numbers he’s proposed. Just making a quarter million dollars per year isn’t enough to make someone too rich to need Social Security. They must also have $4 million is liquid assets. So supposed you just bought Bill Gate’s $63 million mansion. So you are only left with three and a half million dollars in cash. And you only get about a million per year in retirement income. Then don’t worry, you are still going to get your $2,663 check every month. Because Chris Christie isn’t a monster! Clearly, Christie has put together his plan so it won’t actually apply to anyone, but it sounds like he’s coming down hard on the rich.

But the worst thing about this plan is that even if it were real, it is meaningless. Dean Baker has been writing about this for years. Unless we want to eliminate Social Security for everyone with retirement benefits of $40,000 per year and more, there really is no savings. All it would do is make the accounting more difficult (something that Republicans are supposedly against) and make people less inclined to support the program (something that Republicans are very keen for). Even if Christie set a single standard of $200,000, it would be meaningless.

There are two parts of Social Security. The “pay in” is highly regressive — mostly between the upper class (who make around $100,000) per year, and the truly rich who make many hundreds of thousands or more. But it is nonetheless true that the upper class pay a lot of money into social security. The “pay out” is far more egalitarian. So there is money to be gained by soaking the rich — but it isn’t on the “pay out” side; it is on the “pay in” side. Of course, no conservative is willing to eliminate the payroll tax cap — or even increase it. That actually would cause a little pain for the rich, so it is not even discussed.

I don’t think this is a conspiracy. For one thing, I don’t think that Chris Christie is smart enough to say to his people, “I want to propose increasing the retirement age, which is a regressive benefit cut; what can I come up with that makes it looks like I’m hurting the rich too, but which doesn’t actually hurt the rich?” But I do think that people like Christie have advisers who know that anything at all is okay as long as it doesn’t hurt the rich. So if Christie ever got it into his head to raise the payroll tax cap, there would be someone close by to explain that he can’t do that. The problem is more systemic: the Republicans are in the can for the rich. And that’s the only reason they exist.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Chris Christie’s Bad (and Old) Social Security Ideas

  1. Would cutting SS benefits save money? It’s a little like cutting welfare and instead paying through the nose for imprisoning poor people; it’s more expensive. Now, SS recipients aren’t in their prime criminal years. But their children, who would have to take time off from work to help their parents, are in their prime earning years. So I suspect cutting back on a very efficient public retirement program and making up the difference with very inefficient private retirement plans would be a net cost, not a savings.

    Unless, you know, Soylent Green. That might work.

    • Yes, but old people meat is so gamy.

      This is exactly right. It’s like healthcare reform. Conservatives only want to focus on the government. The fact that government healthcare would save the society as a whole a lot of money doesn’t matter. Medicare is doubtless great for the economy. You work in that area don’t you? Someone has to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.

      • Here’s a ridiculous thing. When a state refuses to fund group homes and assisted-living facilities, they end up with young, healthy people with disabilites in nursing homes. Which are vastly more expensive. But Medicare covers it, so states can get away with it and save their budgets a few pennies by costing all of us much more. Not to mention the staffing ratios are often really low in nursing homes; Bush signed a law in Texas lowering the minimum staffing level of nursing homes to 40:1. The sleazier ones are making money hand over fist. Even many elderly people in nursing comes could live on their own with a little help, but they have no money and local governments won’t pay for in-home nursing care.

        Just more examples of conservative governance not really being about curbing “government waste” — only making sure that government spending goes to enriching companies rather than benefitting society. If these people could privatize air, they would.

        The modern GOP (thoughtful individual voters and honest legislators aside) is almost worse than fascism, in a way. Fascists at least believed in some social services for the favored groups they weren’t slaughtering. The ALEC, Heritage types couldn’t give less of a poop about social services (and do their fair share of slaughtering.) They’re as serious about trickle-down economics raising all boats as Inquisitors were about saving souls.

        • “Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

          What’s interesting is the incentive structure. But this is what you get when you decide that you are going to give healthcare to old people but not others. And it makes no sense because old people are far more costly. I’m sure we have this system because the insurance companies found that they couldn’t make money on them. They can make money on the young, so we can’t have universal care for them.

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