The retirement nest egg of an entire generation is stashed away in this small town along the Ohio River: $2.5 trillion in IOUs from the federal government, payable to the Social Security Administration.
It’s time to start cashing them in.

This is from “Social Security to Start Cashing Uncle Sam’s IOUs,” by the Associated Press today.

In 2005, my co-author Charley Hooper and I wrote the following:

And that’s why the Trust Fund is irrelevant. To buy the bonds in the Trust Fund from itself, the government must get the money from somewhere. It has four options. It can reduce other government spending. It can sell assets. It can increase taxes. Or, it can sell bonds. In other words, the Trust Fund has no effect — zero — on the government’s financial situation.

Let’s make it more concrete with a personal situation that many people can relate to. Say you’re planning to send your kid to college. You have ten years and think you need $100,000. In Scenario A, each year you put an IOU for $10,000 in a jar. At the end of ten years, you pour out the jar, swear a bit more than is proper, and then scramble to come up with $100,000, either through borrowing, selling assets, earning more, or spending less. In Scenario B, you skip the jar and IOU charade and advance to the final step: you swear and scramble. The IOU charade was irrelevant.

We also added, in one of the few positive things I ever wrote about Al Gore:

Interestingly, 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore recognized the irrelevance of the Trust Fund. For all the ridicule he received for his concept of the “lock box,” what he was getting at was that he wanted to reduce the federal debt in order to make room for the new debt that he knew was coming with the retirement of the baby boomers.