AARP Opens the Window on Social Security Reform
By David Henderson
A few years ago, I succumbed and joined the AARP. My economic interest overcame my ideology: by joining, I would save more on one optometrist appointment than the annual fee.
As a result, I get their magazine in the mail and look it over quickly. I’m used to their email warnings about awful Republican politicians who want to rein in the growth of benefits. So it was a surprise to read an article in the November issue of AARP Bulletin that slightly opened the door to Social Security reform. The piece, by Kenneth Terrell, is titled “Social Security: The Real Facts.”
What caught my attention is this:
3. Some ideas to reform funding are starting to take shape
One proposal is to either raise or eliminate the wage cap on how much income is subject to the Social Security payroll tax. In 2019, that cap will be $132,900, which means that any amount a worker earns beyond that is not taxed. Remove that cap, and higher-income earners would contribute far more to the system. Other options lawmakers might consider include either raising the percentage rate of the payroll tax or raising the age for full retirement benefits.
I’m used to the first proposal: “either raise or eliminate the wage cap on how much income is subject to the Social Security payroll tax.” That’s standard fare for the AARP.
But the last proposal above, “raising the age for full retirement benefits,” is not standard fare at all.
It’s true that the author is not advocating this. He’s not advocating anything. He’s simply laying out facts. But what I’m used to in AARP publications and in the emails I get are attacks on people who suggest raising the age. The formulation “might consider” comes close to saying “should consider.” Not all the way, of course. But that formulation opens the door a little to reform.
One thing I learned from my Hoover colleague John Cogan, when we were discussing my review of his excellent book on entitlement spending, The High Cost of Good Intentions, is that when changes in such spending are legislated prospectively, that is, people are given a few years to adjust, they don’t object that strongly. He gave me a striking example, which I don’t think is in the book, of a change that gave people only about 3 or 4 years to adjust and there was surprisingly little opposition.