Sunday, September 25, 2005

Equus Mortuus Redux

Mark Hyman repeated a number of falsehoods about Social Security in his viewer mail segment, and again used his tried and true technique of handpicking critical comments that caricature those on the other side of the issue.

Hyman quotes a viewer who says that Social Security “needs to be fixed to protect MY money” [emphasis in original], but fails to mention that under the current system, today’s workers will average receiving more in benefits than they will contribute to the system. He also quotes a viewer who writes hat he doesn’t understand “what the big problem is with fixing . . . [the] system.”

Quoting this comment without any additional context suggests that the question is a reasonable one, but as we pointed out in our rebuttals to Hyman’s series on Social Security, the premise that the system is in need of “fixing” is overstated at best, and is mistaken in fundamental ways.

Hyman also uses a viewer comment as an invitation to introduce a red herring into the argument. Pointing out that the AARP markets retirement funds, Hyman implies that the AARP is hypocritical in opposing privatization of the Social Security system. But one has nothing to do with the other. No one, including the AARP, suggests that private investment is not worthwhile; the issue is that this should be in addition to the guaranteed benefit offered by Social Security, a benefit that will not be subject to the whims of the marketplace.

Hyman also chides a viewer who notes that the Social Security system is sustainable for “30 years” [sic]. Hyman repeats the falsehood that the system will be “broke” by 2042, adding sarcastically, “why worry about it now?” But as we noted in our response to Hyman’s series, the eventual disappearance of the surplus is not the same as the system going “broke,” but is rather a predictable result of baby boomers paying into the system now and collecting benefits after retirement. This period of the system being over-funded is an anomaly for what is essentially a “pay-as-you-go” system. As any number of economists have noted, Social Security will not only not go “broke,” but be able to pay out benefits with few adjustments for the foreseeable future.

Finally, Hyman’s only true nod to the opposition comes when he quotes a viewer who writes that arguments for Social Security privatization are “support for an over-privileged, alcoholic, coke head's plan to put the rich ahead.”

Despite the essential validity of the viewer’s characterization, Hyman has carefully chosen this quotation to suggest that those who disagree with him are unreasonable ideologues who rely on name-calling instead of valid argumentation.

The words “pot” and “kettle” come to mind, don’t they?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.18


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