Dean Baker on Social Security

Dean Baker’s piece in The Guardian on the politics and economics of Social Security is must-read.

The story here is a simple one: while social security may enjoy overwhelming support across the political spectrum, it does not poll nearly as well among the wealthy people – who finance political campaigns and own major news outlets. The predominant philosophy among this group is that a dollar in a workers’ pocket is a dollar that could be in a rich person’s pocket – and these people see social security putting lots of dollars in the pockets of people who are not rich.

For this reason, a candidate who comes out for protecting social security can expect to see a hit to their campaign contributions. They also can anticipate being beaten up in both the opinion and news sections of major media outlets. While, in principle, these are supposed to be kept strictly separate, the owners and/or top management of most news outlets feel no qualms about removing this separation when it comes to social security – and using news space to attack those who defend social security.

This is the fundamental economics of social security that explains why it has not figured more prominently in the presidential race. If President Obama were to rise in defense of the program, he could count on losing the financial backing of many supporters. He would also get beaten up by the Washington Post and other major news outlets for challenging their agenda.

Earlier in the piece Baker notes that in the first debate President Obama said that he and Mitt Romney have essentially the same position on Social Security. Baker notes that Romney’s position is to have major cuts to Social Security, so this isn’t an admission which amounts to taking the issue off the table, but in fact means there is dangerous consensus to cut Social Security.

Baker’s arguments, quoted above, imply that were it not for the wealth of anti-Social Security donors to political campaigns, President Obama would hold a different position on Social Security. I’m not sure that evidence of this exists. All we know from the President is that he and Romney are in essential agreement when it comes to Social Security. We do not know if this is a craven position driven by the need for re-election cash or if it’s a deeply held belief that coincidentally aligns with his rich donors.

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