Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson really doesn't like Social Security and Medicare. And he'll go a long way to argue that they're wasteful, inefficient forms of welfare. (See Extra!, 10/11.) But his arguments rarely hold up. His most recent column (4/9/12) is no exception; in fact, it recycles a totally misleading factoid from a column he wrote last year.
Samuelson's column has problems from top to bottom–you can read Dean Baker's dismantling of it at his Beat the Press blog: There is no trust fund, benefits cuts are necessary and inevitable, there are too many retirees supported by not very many workers.
And, Samuelson writes, beneficiaries get more than they put in:
Although new recipients have paid payroll taxes higher and longer than their predecessors, their benefits still exceed taxes paid even assuming (again, fictitiously) that they had been invested. A two-earner couple with average wages retiring in 2010 would receive lifetime Social Security and Medicare benefits worth $906,000 compared with taxes of $704,000, estimate Steuerle and Rennane.
See that? The whole column is about Social Security, but when it comes to calculating benefits, it becomes the dreaded, budget-wrecking SocialSecurityandMedicare.
Why? Because when you do these calculations just for Social Security, the answer is unhelpful. According to the very same study, this average two-earner couple, it turns out, gets slightly less in benefits that they paid in taxes.
This is almost exactly the same trick Samuelson tried last year (1/27/11), which he used to challenge the supposed myth that "the elderly have 'earned' their Social Security and Medicare by their lifelong payroll taxes."
The truth, as Baker pointed out, is that Medicare's problems are the problems with the healthcare system overall:
If our per person costs for healthcare were comparable to costs in Germany, Canada, the UK or any other wealthy country, then workers would be paying far more for their Medicare benefits than the cost of what they are getting in care.
But then what would Robert Samuelson write about? Underpaid doctors?