The Paradox of Social Security Reform

Matthew Yglesias torches the idea that we should push back the full retirement age for Social Security:

As I've said before, if we're going to cut spending on retirement programs then it makes much more sense to reduce Medicare outlays by $1 than to reduce Social Security benefits by $1. Social Security benefits can be used to buy health care, and reducing Medicare spending could reduce system-wide health care costs. What's more, if we're going to cut spending on retirement programs then such cuts should be broadly shared and not exclusively inflicted on younger people. Such moves are both fairer and more credible. Last, if you want to cut Social Security benefits you should just cut Social Security benefits. Reducing outlays via the mechanism of a higher retirement age is going to mean that the incidence of the cuts falls most heavily on people with physically taxing--or simply boring and annoying--jobs. It's one of the most regressive possible ways of trimming spending.

Most progressives I read don't want to cut Social Security -- not by delaying full retirement payouts and not by slowing the growth of benefits -- because they note that the bottom 50 percent of recipients rely on SS for about 75% of their earnings. Why cut outlays we know will be spent? Logically, you propose means testing the program. And the common rejoinder from the same folks is that tipping benefits toward the poor will reveal the program as welfare rather than a federally monitored retirement program, which will hurt its support. So you're left with ... a third rail.

My two cents. Read the rest of Matt's post here.