Rick Perry Panders to Extremists by Calling Social Security a 'Ponzi Scheme'

Last Updated Sep 8, 2011 5:37 PM EDT

At Wednesday night's GOP presidential primary debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry called Social Security a "ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie" to the younger generation. In other venues at other times, Perry or his aides have refused to rule out the idea that Perry would work to dissolve Social Security altogether.

But Perry seems to ignore the fact that Social Security is extremely popular with Americans -- various polls show that roughly two-thirds of Americans favor leaving Social Security unchanged, even as part of a deal to reduce the federal debt.

Let's take a deeper look at Perry's comments. Use of the term "ponzi scheme" implies criminal intent to defraud investors, where the investors lose everything and the perpetrators get rich. But that simply isn't the case with Social Security -- there's no criminal intent, and nobody's getting rich from Social Security.

And what about his claim of a "monstrous lie" being told to the younger generation? While there are financing problems with Social Security, if nothing is done to fix them, younger workers would still receive about 75 to 80 percent of their promised benefits. While that's not good news, it's hardly a monstrous lie.

And speaking of the younger generation, the New York Times recently reported the results of an AARP-sponsored poll showing that 90 percent of survey respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 deemed Social Security to be very important, with almost half saying that Social Security is one of the most important government programs we have.

Perry and other Republicans should remember that Social Security's current financing scheme was approved by a Republican-led Senate and signed into law in 1983 by a Republican icon -- President Ronald Reagan.

The fact is, Social Security is a vital program for the financial well-being of our senior citizens. It provides modest benefits, a good middle ground for our country, balancing compassion with affordability.

I'm not denying that Social Security has financing issues. What I am saying is that it will take thoughtful, responsible leadership to make Social Security sustainable for future generations. We don't need politicians who spout inflammatory invectives, which can make the necessary compromises impossible.

I've previously stated that as long as we have democracy, we'll have Social Security. Remember this when you're in the voting booth next year.

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.