Rich Old Folks and Social Security

So at Eschaton today Atrios (Duncan Black) has an interesting comment on means-testing Social Security–and an alternative if you want to raise a lot of money without ensnaring people who aren’t really wealthy:

Opening the door to means testing social security, a program which is already, in its own way, means tested, is really dumb in part because it doesn’t actually “save” any money unless you apply it to people who really don’t have much other post-retirement income. The point is that most people don’t have much post-retirement income, so if you go after enough of them to actually claw some money back you’re going to be going after a lot of people who aren’t by any measure “rich.”

I’d say that depends on what you mean by “any” money, but the general point is undoubtedly true that it depends a whole lot on how you “means-test” Social Security as to whether it hits people who do or don’t need the benefits. Are wealth assets a factor? Are any forms of income disregarded?

But in any event, he’s definitely right here:

Want to go after wealthy social security recipients? Increase the tax on unearned income.

This is, of course, a non-starter with Republicans because (a) Grover Norquist says so, and (b) Republicans are actually pushing in the opposite direction on unearned income, seeking (even in the Reformicon-blessed Rubio/Lee proposal) actually to exempt income from capital and inheritances altogether.

But it’s sort of important now and then to remind ourselves and everyone else that the universe of options for dealing with our problems is in many cases artificially constrained by conservative ideology.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.