This last week, the Huffington Post derided President Obama’s fiscal commission co-chair, former Senator Alan Simpson, suggesting that his proposals to increase Social Security’s eligibility age were founded upon gross ignorance of the details of longevity trends (disclosure: I worked for the Senator fifteen years ago, but have not consulted with him about either the interview or this piece). Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein thereafter continued this attack on their blogs with the New York Times and the Washington Post respectively.
The aim of the attacks was to spread the impression that the Simpson-Bowles commission’s Social Security eligibility age recommendations were premised on misinformation. An examination of the policy realities, however, demonstrates otherwise.
The particular chronology was as follows: a reporter contacted Senator Simpson and read him some figures suggesting that life expectancy had grown since 1940 by much less than the Senator had been claiming. Senator Simpson reportedly expressed some unfamiliarity with the particular figures cited, whereupon the reporter stated that they came from the Social Security Administration. An online article resulted, alleging that the Senator suffered from an “apparent unfamiliarity with the history and foundation of Social Security.” (For good measure, the piece mocked Senator Simpson for saying that Social Security was originally “not a retirement program”; more on this later).