How to fix social security and Medicare: Let them go bankrupt, soon

It’s increasingly obvious that Congress and the president (regardless of which party is in power) will deal with the political stink bomb of an aging society only if forced. And the most plausible means of compulsion would be for Social Security and Medicare to go bankrupt: trust funds run dry; promised benefits exceed dedicated payroll taxes. The sooner this happens, the better.

That the programs will ultimately go bankrupt is clear from the trustees’ reports. On pages 201 and 202 of the Medicare report, you will find the conclusive arithmetic: over the next 75 years, Social Security and Medicare will cost an estimated $103.2 trillion, while dedicated taxes and premiums will total only $57.4 trillion. The gap is $45.8 trillion. (All figures are expressed in “present value,” a fancy term for “today’s dollars.”)…

Like General Motors and Chrysler, we continue self-defeating habits because we can—temporarily. These are not easy issues. But procrastination is a bad policy. The longer changes are postponed, the more wrenching they will be. The hurt for retirees and taxpayers alike will only grow with time. Social Security last faced a forcing event in 1983, when a dwindling trust fund prodded Congress to make changes. The counterintuitive lesson: a “crisis” is just what we need.