Spent most of last evening drafting a note for my students on the meaning and history of the "Ponzi Scheme." In the process I discovered that if you search Google for "Ponzi Scheme" together with "Social Security" you get 74,000 hits. I didn't check every one, but at least for the first few pages, it appears to me that the overwhelmingly dominant view is that, yes indeedy,
you-know-what is a you-know-what.
Now, there are some perripheral problems of definition here (for a brisk but useful summary, go to Slate--oh, and this, which I found just this minute). And I readily, even cheerfully, grant that there are important public policy questions immanent in Social Security, including important issues about long-term funding. These need to be addressed and solved in due course, though I must say,for the moment I think they can stay on the back burner.
But to call something a "Ponzi scheme" is to declare it a deliberate flimflam, a calculated imposition on the artless honesty of an unsuspecting public. Like, well, perhaps this guy. Now, Social Security may or may not be good policy (I tend to think it is so-so policy). But the one thing it is not is a deliberate flimflam. Every relevant fact about Social Security is out there for all to see, and has been from day one.
May I, then, propose a general rule for Social Security discussions? That would be: anyone who opens the discussion of Social Security reform with a declaration that it is a "Ponzi scheme"--that person does not want to be, does not expect to be, and does not deserve to be, taken seriously?
Bibliography: There is a non-hysterical introduction to Social Security issues in Teresa Ghilarducci, When I'm Sixty-four, Chapter 5 (2008). I also like the stuff I read here (where, as it happens, just lately Ghilarducci has been taking some heat).