Paul Albaugh / February 16, 2016

Trump’s Social Security ‘Fix’

He came close to a good answer, but he didn’t connect dots.

For millions of working Americans who contribute a significant portion of their paycheck to Social Security, many wonder if they will ever see a dime of the money they have been forced to contribute. And for many Americans who are rightfully concerned about the future of their retirement, hearing candidates attempt to explain how they will fix the broken Social Security system is at best political entertainment and at worst predicted thievery.

During Saturday night’s Republican debate, the topic of Social Security came up. Donald Trump’s thoughts seemed to resonate well with viewers, but he was vague and he missed a perfect opportunity to lay out some specifics and connect the dots.

Trump was asked by The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel how he would fix the deficit and not touch entitlements. He responded, “I’m going to save Social Security.” He then immediately went on what seemed to be an unrelated tangent: “I’m going to bring jobs back from China. I’m going to bring jobs back from Mexico and Japan, where every country throughout the world — now Vietnam, that’s the new one — they are taking our jobs, they’re taking our wealth.”

Strassel clearly wasn’t satisfied with Trump’s vagueness, so she challenged him with a follow-up: “Okay, but how would you actually do that? … Because right now Social Security and Medicare take up two-thirds of the budget.”

Trump replied, “You have tremendous waste, fraud and abuse. That we’re taking care of. That we’re taking care of. It’s tremendous. We have in Social Security right now thousands and thousands of people that are over 106 years old. Now, you know they don’t exist. They don’t exist. There’s tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, and we’re going to get it. But we’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life and then all of a sudden they’re supposed to get less. We’re going to bring our jobs back and we’re going to make our economy great again.”

Well there you have it folks. If Trump can just fix the waste, fraud and abuse within the Social Security Administration then all will be well. He’s absolutely correct that there is waste, fraud and abuse with Social Security, just as there is with any government entitlement program. Fixing that is something that resonates well with Americans. Who, after all, is for waste, fraud and abuse? But while the fraud and waste in Social Security should be fixed, doing so will hardly be enough to save the system. Barack Obama routinely promises the exact same thing, and yet Big Government Bureaucracy just rolls on.

Furthermore, for all of Trump’s hype about his experience as a businessman (as he incessantly reminds us) why didn’t he take on the question of Social Security and call it for what it is — one of the greatest Ponzi schemes in history?

Even so, Trump actually came close to a good answer — if he had just connected the dots. He is correct that bringing American jobs from China, Japan, Mexico and Vietnam would help. More American jobs means more people in the workforce who will pay toward Social Security. He could have pointed to the looming crisis of Social Security becoming insolvent because of demographics. When Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security, the ratio of taxpayers to beneficiaries was 42:1. Today that ratio has plummeted to numbers FDRs’ “Brain Trust” never contemplated — it’s now a puny 3:1, and with 80 million Baby Boomers beginning to enter the system that ratio will only get worse.

Bringing jobs back to America would indeed increase the ratio of taxpayers to beneficiaries, but that combined with “fixing” fraud still won’t be enough. Additional reforms such as moving the retirement age to 70 are needed. Allowing individuals to opt out of Social Security altogether, giving individuals the freedom to choose how they want to save for retirement, is another area of reform that could and should be addressed.

The Republican presidential candidates need to be able to present a clear contrast to what the Democrats are proposing for Social Security and it needs to be detailed and articulated. Trump did not do so well with this one, at least not in a conservative sense. But at least we know he’s going to make it great again.

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