Two items I read over the weekend prompted me to write this rant: the first was a piece about how people really aren’t “entitled to their own opinion”, if that opinion is counter to scientific, demonstrable fact; the second was a transcription of Senator Ron Johnson’s joust with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman on one of the Sunday morning TV talk shows.
Perhaps the cliché should be changed to “everyone is entitled to their own delusion”, in the case of people who think the Earth is three thousand years old, that mercury in vaccinations causes autism, and any of a number of things – Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin seem to have an endless supply of them – that are counter to demonstrable fact.
And Senator Johnson really shouldn’t try to blow smoke past a Nobel Laureate in his particular field of expertise. Here’s the gist: Senator Johnson made the claim that the Social Security Trust Fund is a myth. Why he would say such a stupid thing is beyond me, when it’s obviously not true; but, be that as it may, this came up during a discussion of Social Security on a TV talk show. When Senator Johnson uttered that nonsensical claim, Paul Krugman said “You said ‘let’s start with the facts’, but we’ve just run aground right there”. To which Johnson said “Exactly my point – we have got to agree on facts and figures”. Krugman responded “But your facts are false. Social Security has a dedicated revenue base, it has a trust fund based on that dedicated revenue base…it’s important to realize that the ‘facts’ being brought out here are in fact non-facts.”
Paul Krugman has his own opinions on economic matters, opinions which may or may not be “true”, such as his belief that paying down the nation’s debt is not as important right now as growing the economy, and that we can accomplish some of each at the same time. That’s an opinion, not a fact. But at least it’s an informed opinion.
Senator Johnson’s assertion that the Social Security Trust Fund is a myth is simply not true. Social Security is funded by two things: payroll deductions from the earnings of working people, and income from investments in government securities which the Social Security Trust Fund makes.
Senator Johnson is either ignorant of that basic FACT, or – he would like us to believe that somehow “the government” funds Social Securty – a basic UN-FACT. That sort of assertion, false as it is, falls right in line with similar untrue statements from Johnson about how Social Security payments "add to the deficit".
You and I fund Social Security, and I probably fund a lot more of it than the average person, because I’m self-employed so I personally pay “both sides” of the FICA tax on my income - my portion, and the "employer's" portion.
Senator Johnson is entitled to his opinion that government is too large, too intrusive, and spends too much money.
But Senator Johnson is not entitled to state “facts” which are so untrue as to be absurd. He does so at the peril of being perceived as a clown rather than a politician.