Huffpost Business

Social Security Is Not Broke: Seven And A Half Things To Know

Posted: Updated:
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Human Services Secretary Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and trustee Charles Blahous (R) hold a briefing to release Social Security and Medicare trustees reports at the Treasury Department April 23, 2012 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Human Services Secretary Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and trustee Charles Blahous (R) hold a briefing to release Social Security and Medicare trustees reports at the Treasury Department April 23, 2012 in Washington, DC.

There's good reason to doubt that the Trojan Horse entered Troy on this very date in 1184 BC, but there's no doubt you need to know seven and one half things each day. Here they are:

Thing One: Apocalypse Later: You may read this daily tour through the world of business news looking for reasons to be terrified and/or outraged. And I usually try to deliver. But not today. Today it's all sunshine and light because I've got good news, brothers and sisters.

The good news is that the Social Security trust fund is going to have a surplus until the year 2033, give or take, at which point there will still be enough money to pay 75 percent of promised benefits, according to the latest trustees' report, an annual opportunity for the financial press and haters of our major social benefit programs to do the Panic Dance. Meanwhile, Medicare's trust fund is going to have a surplus until the year 2024, more or less, at which point there will still be enough money to pay out 87 percent of benefits.

You may have seen this news reported with a slightly darker take somewhere else -- oh noes, Social Security and Medicare are going broke again! You might also have heard that this horror is happening because people are getting old. But that's what people do: Get old. The point of having these programs is so we don't all get turned into Soylent Green and fed to the youngs immediately upon turning 65.

No, these programs might eventually run out of their gigantic surpluses largely because the economy has been terrible for the past decade or so, and wage growth has stagnated. There's no doubt we need to rein in medical costs, which would help address Medicare's problems, but there's an extraordinarily fair and simple solution to Social Security's future mild discomfort: Raise the payroll-tax cap, which has drifted from shielding 10 percent of the nation's income from taxation to 18 percent, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. One tweak to that, and this "crisis" could be averted.

Thing Two: Insurers Behaving Badly: A few years back the nation's health insurers settled complaints that they had underpaid patients for out-of-network medical bills and spent $95 million to build a database of medical fees that they could use to boost benefit payments dramatically. Fortunately for the insurance companies, there was much more than $95 million to be made by simply building that database, ignoring it, and using a Medicare database that kept patient costs high and insurance company profits higher, which is exactly what the insurance companies have done, The New York Times reports. In other insurer-behaving-badly news, MetLife agreed to pay $40 million to settle complaints that it overlooked the deaths of some of its life-insurance policyholders, keeping money that belonged to beneficiaries.

Thing Three: Belt-Tightening Backlash: We're going on three years of European debt crisis, and there is still no agreement in Europe about how to end it. The Dutch government collapsed on Monday after a revolt against its belt-tightening approach to cutting debt, a sign that austerity's chief propagandist, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is increasingly isolated, with her pal Nicolas Sarkozy of France likely on his way out. Apparently the bond market is socialist, because borrowing costs in both the Netherlands and France remain placidly low. Greece, meanwhile, after enduring endless lectures from the Dutch government about its own budget problems, is inventing a Greek word for Schadenfreude.

Thing Four: Facebook Needs Lift: On the eve of selling shares to the public, Facebook released its latest quarterly results, showing a slowdown in revenue and profit. Uh-oh! Maybe there's a limit to growth after hitting 900 million users, or roughly half of all the estimated Internet users on the planet? Meanwhile, Facebook bought a bunch of patents from Microsoft for $550 million, some of the same patents Huffington Post parent company AOL sold to Microsoft just a couple of weeks ago.

Thing Five: James And The Giant Pickle: Another day, another inquiry for the Murdoch family. Today James Murdoch heads to the Royal Courts of Justice in London to talk about the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal, Reuters writes: "James Murdoch, 39, will face questions about meetings with ministers while they considered letting the Murdochs take full control of broadcaster BSkyB and also about a Christmas drinks party he attended with Prime Minister David Cameron, who may also soon face awkward questions from an inquiry he himself set up in response to public outrage at tabloid misbehaviour."

Thing Six: Deal Makers, Meet Door: With deals in scarce supply these days, Wall Street has little need for a bunch of deal makers hanging around, reports the Wall Street Journal: "Amid new regulation, lower profits and a dreary market for mergers and acquisitions, several banks are planning to trim investment-banking units that were built for an era of deals aplenty."

Thing Seven: Chinese Banks: China's banks are backed by the Chinese government, which is flush with cash, and yet the banks are starved for capital, writes The New York Times: "[T]he worry is that, over time, the huge infrastructure, real estate and other projects that were the products of China’s stimulus-driven lending binge will fail to turn a profit. Borrowers, including local governments, may then fall behind on their interest payments and could default on their loans."

Thing Seven And One Half: Gold In Them Thar Asteroids: Today a startup company ambitiously calling itself Planetary Resources will announce plans to send unmanned probes to near-earth asteroids, with the hope of eventually (meaning some decades from now) mining minerals and water there. The startup has the backing of Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, among other tech-industry bigwigs.

Calendar Du Jour:

Economic Data:

9:00 a.m. ET: Case-Shiller home-price index for February
10:00 a.m.: Conference Board consumer confidence index for April
10:00 a.m.: New home sales for March
10:00 a.m.: FHFA Housing Price Index for February

Corporate Earnings:

After market close: Apple

Before market open: Coach

Before market open: 3M

Before market open: AT&T

Before market open: United States Steel

Heard On The Tweets:

@ObsoleteDogma: Hugo Chavez might have died & North Korea might have started a war. Or, as we like to call it, Monday.

@EddyElfenbein: "Facebook to Buy AOL Patents from Microsoft" Zuck will finally learn how they did that "you've got mail" voice thingy

@LaMonicaBuzz: When you wish upon a Starbucks. $SBUX to open stores at all $DIS U.S. theme parks. Thought of overly caffeinated Donald Duck is terrifying.

@TheStalwart: It's rough RT @ReformedBroker: LOL, @TheStalwart savaged in the comments section of his "Social Security is Fine" post http://t.co/7RXLd2IX

@ReformedBroker: New Facebook S-1 indicates the company has more "users" than there are human beings on earth, love Web Math

-- Calendar and tweets rounded up by Khadeeja Safdar.

And you can follow us on Twitter, too: @markgongloff and @byKhadeeja

Around the Web

Social Security is slipping closer to insolvency

Social Security trust fund will be out of cash by 2033

Social Security projected to become insolvent earlier

Social Security: Trust fund in the red by 2033

Medicare, Social Security Finances Strained By Aging Workforce And Slowing Economy

What You Can Do Online - Social Security

Retirement Estimator - Social Security