A reader writes:
In the past, in order to make an essentially pay-as-you-go transfer system look a little more like what it claims to be, an actuarially sound insurance system, Congress has had to 'reform' Social Security about every 15 to 20 years. The aim is always to keep tax revenues and payout in balance about 20 to 30 years in the future. But 20 to 30 years in the future is always worse, in terms of the retiree-to-worker ratio. So any tax-and-benefit scheme that balances this long-term future is going to generate a substantial surplus in the short and medium term, essentially subsidizing the chronic deficits on regular Federal expenditures and taxes.
So, the practical effect of our eternally unreformed, but constantly reformed, Social Security system has been to help 1) pay to win World War II, 2) pay down the World War II debt, while 3) fighting the Cold War, and now 4) fight the War on Terror.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.