February 17, 2005 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Social Security Benefit Cuts Calculator. As President Bush barnstorms the country for Wall Street, you can find out what effects the proposed changes will have on your current benefits.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket (58 comments total)
Oh yeah, that's not biased in the least.
posted by mischief at 12:16 PM on February 17, 2005

I'd like to know the exact formula, but I had a 5k loss according to that. Frightening.
posted by moonbird at 12:21 PM on February 17, 2005

He's got a link to his assumptions. (PDF) So you can check the math yourself.
And yeah, mischief, I agree, that second link was way biased.
posted by Floydd at 12:25 PM on February 17, 2005

Mischief, there's no pretending there won't be social security cuts. The title of the page linked indicates a slight bias, but that doesn't make the information less accurate.
The thing to decide is if you're for or against such cuts.
posted by dougunderscorenelso at 12:28 PM on February 17, 2005

$8570 cut. Yikes!

But isn't putting a chunk of the possibly-soon-to-be-formerly-SS-designated money into a private account voluntary? Even so, if enough people do volunteer, there's less to pay out.
posted by pmbuko at 12:32 PM on February 17, 2005

Says I'm down $5K as well.

After the campaign of lies already, I don't want Bush to touch Social Security (well that and he's a fuckin' idiot). Its just another plank in his campaign of FUD to keep people scrambling.
posted by fenriq at 12:39 PM on February 17, 2005

17% cut here. And I've looked at the assumptions and don't see a problem with the math. Mischief, can you show me bias in the calculations?
posted by dejah420 at 12:39 PM on February 17, 2005

The percentage drop is based solely on your birth year...it doesn't matter if your income is 100 or 100,000...it calculates the percentages desired from that.

Try it out...if you enter 1950, your % will always be 2...if you choose 2005, always 50%.
posted by mystyk at 12:41 PM on February 17, 2005

Ok, correction...it can change slightly...by up to 1%...based on the amount entered, but it is essentially very heavily weighted...
posted by mystyk at 12:42 PM on February 17, 2005

mystk, well no shit. If you were born in 1950, chacnes are you're retiring a lot sooner than someone born in 2005.
posted by pmbuko at 12:42 PM on February 17, 2005

mystyk ... chances
posted by pmbuko at 12:43 PM on February 17, 2005

This is fun.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:45 PM on February 17, 2005

i'd be out $3,218 a year--good thing Bush's plan is DOA.
posted by amberglow at 12:49 PM on February 17, 2005

The only bias in the assumptions is an overly-pessimistic idea of rate of return (2.7% or something). 3 something is maybe more like it. Otherwise, it is being completely honest.
posted by teece at 12:50 PM on February 17, 2005

It's simple: if Wall Street is so successful why aren't we all millionarie by now ? What about Black Thursday ? What about Insider Trading ? How comes bloody rich people like Martha Steward and others are involved in insider trading, if it's a crime that has little influence (read, involves little money) ? Are they stupid or they want to get more rich ?

Why of all the people I know who invested in stocks, only one out of 10 managed to get some money and he's the one who runs the company that manages the stocks for a price ?

Also about the government oversight and vigilance and security ...where was the Govt during the Enron crash ?

Let's ask the prestigeous Fortune magazine for stock tips ..or not, as they named Enron "America's Most Innovative Company" for five consecutive years ? Guess Fortune managers were really much much "loved" by Enron ?

The list of woes goes on and on..and of course it will be minimized as "it's all a thing of a past !" ...well I guess theft never goes out of fashion ?
posted by elpapacito at 12:51 PM on February 17, 2005

Actually, Amberglow, Bush does NOT have a plan. All he has is some vague commitment to Social Security "reform." The reason he has no plan is because of this estimator -- once he puts forth an actual plan, it can be shown just how big a fucking you are going to get from the Bush plan.

The idea was to get people to sign on to his "reform" agenda BEFORE he put any plan forward, so that when he did put out a plan, hopefully the major fucking America got could be glossed over.

The hopeful thing so far is that Democrats are not being so stupid (today), and even a few Republicans are anxious, so this plan of attack is not working.
posted by teece at 12:54 PM on February 17, 2005

teece: that's no reason to relax, there are 4 more year of partisan sponsored brainwashing incoming,
posted by elpapacito at 1:11 PM on February 17, 2005

NPR's Morning Edition today had an interesting segment about Britain's experiment with social security privatization in the 1980s, and how it has been such a disaster that they're now switching back to a system like what we currently have.
posted by dreish at 1:16 PM on February 17, 2005

The Calculator from the other side

we have any economists here who can explain the descrepancies?
posted by slapshot57 at 1:19 PM on February 17, 2005

I can explain it: One side is pushing the proposal and the other is opposed to it.

Basically it comes down to how optimistic your assumptions about future growth are, though Paul Krugman argues that if the assumptions the conservatives use to make private accounts look wonderful were also applied when projecting the future of Social Security, there would be no Social Security crisis. The economy would essentially grow its way out of the problem.
posted by dreish at 1:26 PM on February 17, 2005

amberglow, thanks for that link. I love reading about dissension in the GOP ranks. I fully expect Bill Frist to be demoted to monkey shiner tomorrow now.

teece, isn't that what he did with his Iraq invasion? And that's just gone swell, hasn't it? I think the Dems are smart enough to let this one explode in their faces.
posted by fenriq at 1:27 PM on February 17, 2005

I find it odd that everybody here seems to care. Are you really going to rely on social security when you retire? No matter how you calculate things, it is essentially a large scale ponzi scheme.

I'm 32, I've been working for 18 years, and I don't count on getting one cent from the government when I retire.

One day, this system will fail. There is no guarantee, and there is no trust fund.
posted by bh at 1:31 PM on February 17, 2005

I'm not convinced there's a real threat, but one look at my W-2 this year convinced me of an easy, sure-fire way to shore up the fund: raise the limit on SS-taxable income.
posted by mkultra at 1:33 PM on February 17, 2005

That's a very strange attitude, bh. No one is proposing to eliminate all Social Security benefits, and it is unlikely that such a proposal would ever get anywhere politically. You can count on receiving a significant amount of money from Social Security when you retire, though probably not enough to live on without additional savings of your own.
posted by dreish at 1:34 PM on February 17, 2005


Well duh. I was looking for an explanation with a little more meat on it though.


exactly, I'm 24 and my portfolio is already strong, to quite strong. just saved another couple grand I'm gonna try and put away before I head to poor city (grad school). Although I do appreciate the possibility that should everything go to shit, I would be taken care of.
posted by slapshot57 at 1:34 PM on February 17, 2005


exactly, easiest way to fix the problem is two drastic steps:

1) Raise the age a little
2) Raise the cap a little

doesn't seem too tricky to me, and we didn't have to increase the debt by 1.5 trillion to do it
posted by slapshot57 at 1:36 PM on February 17, 2005

The Heritage Social Security Calculator assumes that you start contributing money to your personal retirement account (PRA) at age 21 and continue making payments until your retirement, which is set, by default, at age 67 (full benefit retirement age).
You may change the age of your retirement in the Calculator but not the age that you start contributing money.

Boy, now THAT'S some voodoo economics. It's only accurate if you're 21, or have been contributing to your mythical hypothetical PRA since you were 21.
posted by Floydd at 1:37 PM on February 17, 2005

It is not a Ponzi Scheme. It is an insurance program. A Ponzi Scheme, by definition, promises impossibly high returns on investments, because it requires exponential growth in the number of participants at each step, which is impossible. Social security does not. So can we drop the stupid meme that social security is a Ponzi Scheme? Unless you also disapprove of life insurance, fire insurance, car insurance, health insurance, etc., etc., etc., all of which operate on the exact same principles.
posted by kyrademon at 1:38 PM on February 17, 2005

slapshot57: I don't know what more you want. If you assume 4.4% growth, you get one set of numbers, and if you assume 2% growth, you get another set of numbers. I just made those numbers up -- I don't know what either side is actually assuming, but they're each choosing the forecasting numbers that make their case. I think both sides probably publish their assumptions, if you want to dig around and find them. I don't find it very interesting because 30-year economic forecasts are all just bullshit anyway, but that's basically the mechanics of it.
posted by dreish at 1:42 PM on February 17, 2005


The only reason the system will fail is because bonds and bills bought by the SS from the Treasury are worthless- the government is currently in deficit, and will not pay those back.

It's all because of the current budget deficit and national debt. Bush actually made the situation worse with the drug plan and Iraq- he's pretty much set the system up to fail so he could fuck with it.

It's really perfect- If I wanted to bankrupt the US of A in totality, I would certainly do everything Bush is doing.

The question is, what would he (or his 'friends') gain from bankrupting the US? (/quizzing thread derail)
posted by id at 1:47 PM on February 17, 2005

kyrademon - I call it a ponzi scheme because it relies on an ever-increasing number of participants to keep it running. Barring that, it requires a reduction in payouts, or an increase in taxes.

With an insurance policy, a large group of people pay in a certain amount based on the odds of something bad happening. With social security, a large group of people pay a certain amount to another large group of people. The 'odds' in this case are how long retired people live, and how much the taxes/payouts can be changed.

When medical science finds ways to keep people alive for another 20-30 years (very possible by the time I retire), this whole damned thing is going to fall apart.

id - Borrowing from yourself does not make you solvent. Congress and the president can kill this system at any time they wish, and one day they will have to.

As for your derail, I see no benefit to completely bankrupting the US, although putting the economy in a crisis could very well bring us closer to totalitarianism. I don't think Bush is smart enough to be trying that, though. Cheney, who I still think is running things, won't live long enough to enjoy the benefits, so I'm writing current politics off to stupidity, not malice.
posted by bh at 1:56 PM on February 17, 2005

id, I think the worst of Republican leadership, but I don't think they have any interest in bankrupting the government. But, putting the government in a situation where getting rid of social security is necessary to avoiding bankruptcy, that's a different story.

On preview: I'm going write it off as malice and with more of a financial theory as well as opposed to a 'total control' theory.
posted by Arch Stanton at 1:58 PM on February 17, 2005


The Heritage estimator is a joke: it is fundamentally dishonest. It is not making a projection based on reality. Right now, I don't remember what its fault's were, but they are legion.

If you want a somewhat more honest estimator from the "pro" side, go to the one Cato has done. Theirs is, at least, not a complete joke, as the Heritage one is. However, the Cato one also has a couple of major flaws: 4.95% return (that's bullshit, too high), very dishonest calculation of CONTINUING 4% income growth throughout a working career (i.e. they are saying that everyone that starts out making $40K a year ends up making $180K a year).

The only questionable thing in this calculator is the rate of return: 2.7% is a little too low. Otherwise, it is spot on.

BH: you don't understand SS at all. Nor do you understand Ponzi schemes. And yes, a large portion of the society WILL depend on SS for their retirement, as they have since it was instigated.
posted by teece at 2:04 PM on February 17, 2005

teece - So what am I missing? Do you object to my referring to SS as a ponzi scheme? Technically, it is not. But the systems are very similar. You need an ever-increasing tax base to pay out on SS. As more people retire and live longer, the system costs more. The math on this is basic.

Both systems rely on bringing in more people to pay to support those that are getting paid. SS will just take a little bit longer to collapse.
posted by bh at 2:20 PM on February 17, 2005

Here's the link to the (conservative) Cato Instititute calculator, mentioned above, where you can plug in your salary, similar to the calculator offered by Senator Schumer (Dem-NY), mentioned in the FPP. For a comparison of the two, see this February 17th analysis by Kevin Drum.
posted by WestCoaster at 2:21 PM on February 17, 2005

teece - So what am I missing? Do you object to my referring to SS as a ponzi scheme? Technically, it is not. But the systems are very similar. You need an ever-increasing tax base to pay out on SS. As more people retire and live longer, the system costs more. The math on this is basic.

Um, no, you don't need "an ever increasing" anything, and yes, the math is very basic, and no, you don't understand it at all. People are not living substantially longer now than they were in 1950 -- FROM THE TIME THEY RETIRE. People died younger then, but if you made it to 65, life expectancy is only slightly higher today. Thus the life expectancy problem is vastly overstated -- most who trumpet it have no understanding of the issue at all. Second, our population is aging -- temporarily. It is not aging without bound -- to think so is to completely misunderstand the nature of physics, the universe, and differential equations. We have a temporary problem with a large generation: the Baby Boomers. Read any of the honest actuarial work, and you'll see this is trivially fixable, either by a small increase in taxes or a change in how we tax. Thirdly, SS is not a Ponzi scheme, not even remotely. It does not rely on an ever growing base of contributors, and again, if you think it does, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND SS at all.

Lastly, it is INSURANCE. If you don't think that is the case, start the planning on how to finance your own retirement. You'll quickly realize you were completely mistaken in thinking otherwise, if you're smart. How long will you live after retirement? You have no idea. If you want to guarantee a certain level of income after retirement, you HAVE to buy a form of insurance from somebody, because you have no way of knowing how long you might live past retirement. When you do that, you have just re-implemented Social Security -- badly.

Many (most?) Americans have SS as the CORNERSTONE of their retirement package. Lots of people want more money -- good for them. Nothing is stopping them from supplementing their SS income with INVESTMENT income. But people have been foolish enough to think that their investment is a replacement for SS -- it is not, unless you are either lucky or very rich. But the fundamental function SS provides is both needed, and nothing at all like a Ponzi scheme. It will be there when you retire -- unless, in your ignorance, you allow politicians to fool you into getting rid of it in the only way possible: voting for people that legislate in out of existence.
posted by teece at 2:37 PM on February 17, 2005

Yeah, it's biased. Then again, for those of you born after 1980, the retirement age will be 85, so it makes no difference.
posted by mischief at 3:45 PM on February 17, 2005

(You're lucky, trharlan. My health insurance changes the details of its policies on me all the goddam time.)
posted by kyrademon at 3:55 PM on February 17, 2005

I love you teece! SMOOTCHES!

Funny, how those who favor SS destruction reform seem to be so convinced that the facts that point to its doom are so obvious and absolute. Whenever I hear someone who is in favor of not privatizing it, their explanations are always take a little bit more brainpower to understand, but usually make more sense at the end.

Another example of conservative reliance on emotion ("their takin' my money I could use to be a millionaire in the stock market!") and lack of careful thinking.
posted by Boydrop at 4:07 PM on February 17, 2005

one other thing to keep in mind about the proposed changes is that because of the 'pwned' nature of the program that Bush is proposing (i.e. tha ability to pass the leftovers on to one's progeny) there is the possibility that one could exhaust their own account before biologically retiring. Nothing like being in one's late 80's and realizing that your 'annuity' is kaput.

The program can be fixed (and deal with the Boomers) by doing something fairly simply, i.e. raising/nixing the $90k cap, and limiting benefits to those for whom SS is a drop in their retirement income bucket. However, as both of these simple solutions would do more to shift wealth from the wealthy to the poor, they are inherently anti-Republican and not likely to be enacted by an R-type gov't.

BTW, even Greenspan, and his tacit approval of some type of privatization, realizes the dangers to democracy that the Bush plan would engender in the long term.
The increasing concentration of wealth among high earners isn't good for a democratic society, Greenspan said.
posted by wah at 4:35 PM on February 17, 2005

trharlan, you may find projections of dependant population enlightening, since it takes into account all dependant populations that would be expected to draw on Social Security.
The American Academy of Actuaries has an issue brief from last year that outlines some basic assumptions vis a vis life expectancy at birth and how that effects Social Security.

Right now, Social Security has reserves in excess of $1.5 trillion, and those reserves are projected to rise to more than $6 trillion over the next twenty-five years to absorb the impact of the baby boomers’ retirement. It should be noted that by 2042, the majority of the baby-boom generation will no longer be alive.
Whether one favors or opposes the creation of private accounts, the plain fact is that they would make the challenges facing Social Security more immediate and severe.

Great Britain tried privatization. The result? A Bloody Mess.

And here are 10 Myths you might want to consider.
posted by Floydd at 4:39 PM on February 17, 2005

trharlan: If 2.7% return is such a biased assumption, then why do conservatives assume 1.7% economic growth when projecting that Social Security will go bankrupt in a few decades?

I'll say it again for the hard-of-thinking: If the economy is only growing at 1.7% a year, there is no way stocks are going to grow at 6-7% a year, as these same people would have us believe when making the other side of the pitch. It's blatantly dishonest.

To put it another way: If there is going to be a Social Security crisis, private investment accounts will perform poorly—similar to just cutting benefits to eliminate the shortfall. If private investments do well, there will be no Social Security crisis.

Bush's proposal does nothing to fix Social Security. It's like saying, "Your house could soon catch fire; the only way to stop it is with this ham sandwich I'm selling." Bush wants to sell private accounts, and will use whatever scare tactics are at hand to do so.
posted by dreish at 4:44 PM on February 17, 2005

(Just like he wanted to go to war in Iraq and used the convenient scare tactic of the "smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud", despite knowing that Iraq had no nuclear weapons capability, in case anyone missed the pattern.)
posted by dreish at 4:54 PM on February 17, 2005

Everything you know is wrong, bh:
The actuarial view is that the system is probably in need of a small adjustment of the sort that Congress has approved in the past. But there is a strong argument, which the agency acknowledges as a possibility, that the system is solvent as is. -- NYT Magazine 1/16/05

"I can't think of any developed country that has a state pension system in better shape than the U.S.," says Monika Queisser, administrator of the social policy division of the Paris- based OECD. "Social Security makes relatively generous payments at low cost. It's solvent until the middle of the century, and can be for much longer with some tweaking. And the U.S. has a growing population." -- Washington Post 1/10/05
This battle isn't about "saving" Social Security, it's about conservatives wanting to kill it with the trojan horse of private accounts ... a victory they've craved for 70 years.
posted by pmurray63 at 6:09 PM on February 17, 2005

To call that the only bias and ignore its significance is rich, as anyone who has spent more than thirty seconds with a financial calculator can understand.

You may find it "rich" tharlan, I call it "the English language." This model here has one (1) point that could be called biased, hence the word "only." The Cato model has AT LEAST two very serious errors, and the major one is NOT the return percentage, it's the stupid assumption that income grows steadily until retirement. The Heritage model has MANY biases.

Nice try though. More importantly, if you know any math and economics, the model here is completely correct except for the rate of return (although the rate of return IS CORRECT according to the doom-and-gloom forecasts the crisis-mongers use to pitch their crisis scenario. They ditch the doom-and-gloom for their fixes, though. Go figure). So, all you have to do is plug the model into your spreadsheet, and change RETURN=0.027 to RETURN=0.035. Again, hence the word "only." A perfectly acceptable use in the English language.

But you knew that.
posted by teece at 6:41 PM on February 17, 2005

Hmm... My insurance company can't change the details of the policy after it has been issued.
posted by trharlan at 3:30 PM PST on February 17

Unless you have a Whole Life Insurance policy, your insurance policy, whatever the type, is issued for a specific term. Generally, health insurance, car insurance, and homeowners insurance all are renegotiated on an annual basis. Please quit flogging the "It's not insurance" horse, trharlan. It's long dead and starting to stink.
posted by Floydd at 7:12 PM on February 17, 2005

I'm surprised this statement went through unchalleneged:

The only reason the system will fail is because bonds and bills bought by the SS from the Treasury are worthless- the government is currently in deficit, and will not pay those back.

If US bonds are worthless, this country will have far more problems than worrying about social security. You are essentially saying that the recognized safest investment in the world, US government bonds, will not be paid back.

So what about all those senior who have converted their nest eggs into bonds as they approach retirement? Are they screwed too?

This is a scare tactic that is nowhere near reality. The US will not default on bonds.
posted by RalphSlate at 7:32 PM on February 17, 2005

What's to stop the US government from "paying" back the bonds using the money owed to itself from the same bonds?
posted by drscroogemcduck at 10:48 PM on February 17, 2005

That doesn't make sense, drscroogemcduck. The bond is an IOU, backed up by the full faith and credit of the US government. The pay-back of the bond is actual money, collected from you and I via taxes (or, I suppose, collected from creditors if the gov't wanted to issue *another* bond to pay off this bond). But the money is paid back when the bond is due, or the government defaults on its debt.

I don't see the scenario you are saying.
posted by teece at 12:05 AM on February 18, 2005

You can expect to pay $388,670 in Social Security taxes over your working life for retirement and survivors benefits. For those taxes, you can expect to receive $2,629 a month in Social Security retirement benefits. Your rate of return under today's Social Security is -0.69%.

However, if you had been able to invest all of your Social Security taxes in a Personal Retirement Account (PRA), you would have had a total of $1,099,351 when you retired. Your monthly benefits would have been $8,955. You lost $6,326 a month.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:00 AM on February 18, 2005

Linkage, please?
posted by Floydd at 11:25 AM on February 18, 2005

Steve: that's just silly. What "You" will pay in SS depends upon how much you make, and what "you" will get back is also dependent on that. You blurb is pointless without some backup.

More importantly, get this through your head: SS is not an investment. It is SECURE. Not insecure, as an investment.
posted by teece at 2:36 PM on February 18, 2005

SS is not an investment. It is SECURE.

I duno, a return of -0.69% isn't looking too secure to me.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 2:52 PM on February 18, 2005

You can expect to pay $388,670 in Social Security taxes over your working life for retirement and survivors benefits. For those taxes, you can expect to receive $2,629 a month in Social Security retirement benefits.

Steve - note the slight of hand - the Heritage calculation of a -.69% rate of return is not an apples to apples comparison. A significant part of Social Security costs involve survivor benefits - payments to a widow, including a divorced spouse, and minors, and those who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled. [I believe I've seen the figure of 16% of all SSA payouts are to survivors/disabled, but I may be misremembering.]

So what an individual (and his/her employer) pay into the system is for two things ; what the Heritage calculator uses is the value (payout) of only one of them (the largest fraction, admittedly). So the "rate of return" calculation is bogus.
posted by WestCoaster at 3:34 PM on February 18, 2005

I duno, a return of -0.69% isn't looking too secure to me.

The number for "return" (which doesn't even apply here), is totally fabricated. How can you measure the return on something of unknown quantity? You don't know how long you live after retirement, and hence how much you get paid out is completely unknown. It's little details like this that show the Heritage for what it is: junk.
posted by teece at 4:23 PM on February 18, 2005


The bonds aren't all going to expire at once and they also could be callable. So the government is in the position to make incremental payments from the Treasury to the Trust Fund to pay off bonds and then transfer that money back to the Treasury. Thus, the government could pay off the debt with a fraction of the total value because it owes itself the money.
posted by drscroogemcduck at 9:10 PM on February 19, 2005

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