The Breakfast Table

Over and Out

Dear Jon,

You’re right. The best thing about having Clinton endorse the idea of financing individual Social Security investment accounts out of a likely ephemeral surplus is that it may poison the idea for the GOP. Do you suppose the White House was Machiavellian enough to plan that in advance?

Herb Stein also raised an interesting question at lunch. From which surplus is Clinton proposing to “divert” 62 percent to Social Security (with additional percents for Medicare and the individual accounts). The current trust fund surplus? Since it is currently bigger by some $40 billion than the total budget surplus, giving it back 62 percent of itself isn’t much of a favor. Or 62 percent of the total budget surplus? That would be an even worse deal in the short-run. But if a general fund surplus really does emerge in the next decade, when the trust funds start spending down several years from now Clinton’s promise would amount to a transfer of general revenues to Social Security–a novel departure.

Alas, I wasn’t able to make the Brookings conference though I did read about it. I would like to have seen Aaron in action against Chile’s Mr. Pinera though. Henry takes fewer prisoners than Pinochet. I don’t think the helicopter solution would work that well here though. Somebody would get dropped onto somebody else’s power boat or messed up in someone’s fishing lines and the next thing you know the trial lawyers would move in and end up with 30 percent of the trust funds in their pockets.

Well, I guess it’s time to sweep the crumbs off the table and empty the coffee pot. I wonder what we would really have talked about had we actually been chatting over breakfast? Probably you would have mumbled on about basketball and Byzantines. And I would have been complaining that neither the guy who is supposed to have cleaned out the gutters nor the man to repair the roof had showed up and when the next ice storm comes and the power goes out and the water backs up and starts leaking into the bedroom this time I’m not going to be the one who climbs out there and scrapes the ice off … And then we would both have gone back to reading the papers in silence. (If truth be known, I’d prefer not to have to talk to anyone much before noon.)

Talk soon.


P.S. I’m going to be a senior writer at U.S. News covering the “political economy,” which I take to be the sort of thing we’ve been discussing on and off. Editing Mr. Zuckerman’s column is not, I believe, covered by my job description, though of course I should be honored to do so.