Don’t call Social Security a Ponzi scheme

September 20, 2011

Charles Krauthammer [“The great Ponzi debate,” Sept. 16, op-ed] seems not to understand how Social Security works. So here’s a primer.

First, a Ponzi scheme, at the very least, has an uncertain, unsustainable source of revenue. In contrast, Social Security has an assured, dedicated revenue stream: workers’ contributions, revenue generated from treating a portion of benefits as taxable income, and interest paid on Treasury notes held in the Social Security trust funds.

Second, Social Security Administration actuaries project that, with no changes in the program, all promised benefits will be paid for the next quarter-century, after which the program would still have enough money coming in to pay more than three-quarters of all benefits over the next 50 years. Even with a long-term funding shortfall, Social Security is neither a Ponzi scheme nor a program going broke.

Finally, Mr. Krauthammer is correct that Social Security is “the most vital, humane and fixable of all social programs,” but he ignored fixes that will bring the program into long-term balance without cutting benefits. For example, applying the payroll tax to all wages over $250,000 a year would keep the program “solvent for the next 75 years” without cutting benefits, according to Social Security actuaries.

In short, Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme, can meet all its commitments for the next quarter-century, and its projected long-range shortfall can be addressed with no cuts in benefits.

John M. Cornman, Arlington

The writer has been a consultant for Social Security Works, which opposes any cuts in Social Security benefits.

Charles Krauthammer ignored the meaning and connotation of the word “scheme.” A scheme in this usage clearly indicates criminal deception to enrich the perpetrator and to defraud investors. Social Security is a system, not a scheme.  

Tom Mather, Columbia

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