Another Myth about Social Security (Part 1) (Milton Friedman discusses Social Security Myth)


Author Biography

Eric Schurenberg is Editor-in-Chief of and Editorial Director of CBS Previously, Eric was managing editor of MONEY. As managing editor, he expanded the editorial focus to new interests including real estate, family finance, health, retirement, and the workplace. Prior to MONEY, Eric was deputy editor of Business 2.0. He was also the managing editor of, a Web site for Goldman Sachs Group’s personal wealth management business, and an assistant managing editor at Fortune magazine. Schurenberg has won a Gerald Loeb Award for distinguished business journalism, a National Magazine Award, and a Page One Award.

In his article “5 Social Security Myths That Have to Go, ” Schurenberg notes:

Social Security isn’t the only cause of America’s fiscal problems, but it is Exhibit A in why it is so hard to fix them. No serious solution to our debt can ignore a program that will tax and spend about 4.8% of GDP this year and account for about 20% of all federal spending-and that within a few decades will count almost a third of the population as beneficiaries. But whenever I write about Social Security here at CBS MoneyWatch, I’m always struck by how much disagreement there is about how the system really works.

A handful of misconceptions tend to crop up repeatedly-often having to do with that fiscal fun-house mirror, the Social Security trust fund. And despite the efforts of writers like Allan Sloan and experts like the Urban Institute’s Eugene Steuerle, the myths won’t die. This column won’t kill them either, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a whack. Here goes:

Myth: Social Security didn’t create the deficit and shouldn’t be cut to fix it


This is a much loved progressive slogan. “Blaming Social Security for the deficit is like blaming Iraq for 9/11,” writes Dave Johnson of in one of the cleverer examples of the genre.

Technically, the first part of the myth is true-or rather, used to be true. From 1983 until last year, Social Security revenues actually lowered the Treasury’s need to borrow in the public markets, as excess payroll taxes collected under Social Security’s flag helped fund other government programs.

The surplus years are over, however. The Social Security trustees’ report estimates that last year payroll taxes fell short of the sums paid out to beneficiaries. Small surpluses will return for a few years; then the red ink will return for good in 2015. To make up the annual shortfall, Social Security will have to draw on revenues from the general budget. In other words, from here on out, year after year, Social Security only makes the deficit larger.


Milton Friedman


Using Social Security as his prime example, Professor Friedman explodes the myth that the major expansions in government resulted from popular demand. In a speech delivered more than 30 years ago, he directly relates this dynamic to today’s health care debate.

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