Whither Driving Votes?

A number of friends have asked, so here goes:

Driving Votes is still alive and well, though its mission has shifted from rallying democratic voters to helping forge a coherent message for the Democratic Party. A handful of talented DV volunteers have taken the reins of the organization; I think there are one or two full- time employees now. And, of course, there’s still plenty of driving to be done: DV members have been active at high-level Democratic conventions in DC, New York, and San Diego.

My involvement is near-zero at this point; I still help maintain the technical end of the website, but that’s about it. In fact, politically I find myself somewhat distant from Driving Votes.

Case in point: Driving Votes has thrown its weight behind There Is No Crisis, a non-profit dedicated to spreading the word about “Bush’s Social Security Lies.” At the heart of their argument: Social Security works just fine, thank you very much.

Fig 1. Baby is unlikely to receive retirement benefits.

The catch, of course, is that there most certainly is a crisis. At its core, Social Security is a pyramid scheme. This works swimmingly if a small number of people at the top (today’s retirees) receive payments from a large number of people down below (today’s workers, via mandatory FICA deductions.) Therein lies the rub: right now, Americans are living longer and having fewer children. According to the SSA, in 1960 there were five workers for every retiree. Today it’s about three. In 2030, there will be two. Unless the working population increases without bound, social security is guaranteed to fail. It’s only a matter of time.

There are two questions to answer: how can we keep the system solvent longer, and how should we reform it for long-term stability?

There is a simple short-term solution: as demographics change, either increase the size of FICA deductions or decrease payouts to retirees. (This is unlikely to be politically acceptable!) Al Gore’s “lockbox” (a.k.a. the Social Security Trust Fund) only gets us so far; even if we manage to remain solvent through baby boomer retirement, demographic trends are not in our favor.

The word “privatization” has the mystical ability to send my liberal friends into a state of panic. The truth is that Bush hasn’t formally announced his plans; until he does, it’s difficult to critique them. Time will tell whether privatization is great or disastrous. Meanwhile, it’s foolish to claim that Bush wants to “provide a windfall to Wall Street and corporations” or that he’s “lying about Social Security.” Bush is right to want to fix our Social Security problem now: the longer we wait, the greater our financial obligation and the more our hands are tied.