The crisis of 2011 – in 2010?

by John Quiggin on November 20, 2010

Back in July, no one seemed to be talking about a shutdown of the US government following the Dems loss of control of the House. Now the only question is – when?

David Dayen at FDL says it could be as soon as December (I don’t understand the mechanics well enough to confirm or reject this claim). Among those looking forward to the shutdown, the most notable, for a variety of reasons is Alan Simpson. Obama must really be feeling the gratitude there.

There’s still a chance that the Dems can manage a pre-emptive capitulation/collaboration so massive that some on the other side will be willing to cash in their gains without taking the risk of a shutdown. I imagine that would entail, at a minimum, full extension of the Bush tax cuts, effective repeal of the health care bill, no more money for the unemployed, Social Security ‘reform’ and a bunch of spending cuts directed at the tribal demons of the Tea Party. Of those, health care is the only one where I can see the White House taking a stand. I’m less clear about the priorities of the Congressional Dems.

The Social Security Trust Fund

by John Holbo on November 20, 2010

Yglesias has a post about the rhetoric of The Social Security Trust Fund, in response to a Planet Money podcast on the subject. The puzzle of the podcast is: how can there even be an argument about whether a giant Trust Fund exists or not? Shouldn’t that be sort of obvious? Yglesias is in the ‘it exists’ camp. And I think that’s right.

Here’s the way to think about the Trust Fund, to make it seem it doesn’t exist. The Social Security Trust Fund takes in money that it socks away, for an elderly day, in the form of government bonds. But, since it’s all just the government, that’s your right hand loaning your left hand money. If I am poor, I can’t get rich selling myself a lot of ‘Holbo bonds’. I can’t have my cake and eat it, too, earning money with the left hand, then loaning that money to the right hand, to spend on a piece of cake to be eaten now, while also writing on a piece of paper, ‘the right hand owes the left hand a piece of cake’. That seems like double-counting in the worst way.

Here’s the way to think about it, so it seems like the Trust Fund exists. The parents (government) agree that the child (Social Security) should have an allowance. The child wants to save the money. So the parents keep a running account. Every week, the parents write the child an IOU, which the child dutifully puts in a little box. Over time the box comes to contain a lot of IOU’s from the parents. Meanwhile, the parents are not separately putting funds that would correspond to those IOU’s into yet another box. They are just running the household. But the IOU’s exist, and are backed by the parents. [click to continue…]