New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait is usually a judicious and perceptive analyst of the intersection between politics and economics. So it's disappointing to see him blindly falling in step with a conservative attack on Social Security.
Chait's error is part of his otherwise astute analysis of the Republican Party's demographic quandary. He writes that the GOP, by focusing its appeal on older Americans, has become trapped in a "self-perpetuating cycle" in which it attracts mainly old people, and thus represents the interests only of old people. (His theme is based partially on an analysis by David Frum in Foreign Affairs.)
In making his point, Chait cites a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute, whom he accurately describes as "professionally committed to cutting Social Security."
The op-ed, Chait says, is about "the need to restore solvency to the Social Security Trust Fund, which certainly ought to be a conservative priority." He approvingly cites what he calls Biggs' "harrowing description of Social Security’s long-term deficit, which is real."
The recession doesn't make an appearance in Biggs' op-ed, except for a drive-by reference to "a slow economy" post-2008, which Biggs associates with "President Obama's time in office." But it's proper to observe that the main difference between the world of 2008 and 2011 is the worst U.S. economic crisis since the Great Depression. As the crisis ate away at the balance sheets of most Americans, Social Security wasn't spared. To ignore its effects, as Biggs seems to, is to fudge the argument.