Home > Beltway bulls**t, Truthiness > Surprise! Alan Simpson is a know-nothing blowhard

Surprise! Alan Simpson is a know-nothing blowhard

He may have co-chaired a Presidential commission on deficit reduction, but former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson is largely unfamiliar with actual facts about the Social Security program and about key demographic trends in the U.S.

Like many members of the Pain (for others) Caucus, Simpson “knows” what he knows and refuses to accept corrections of his false perceptions and assumptions. After all, his lifestyle or well-being will never be diminished by his recommendations to cut benefits or increase the retirement age. He’s a perfect representative of the species Beltway Blowhard.

Let’s leave aside Simpson’s claim that Social Security was never intended as a retirement program, and focus on his inaccurate statements about demography: he claimed that average life expectancy in the 1930s was 63, so making 65-year-olds eligible for Social Security wasn’t expected to cost very much.

What Simpson refuses to admit is that the relevant statistic is life expectancy at age 65, not at birth. Because most gains in overall life expectancy are due to fewer deaths in infancy and childhood, not longer lifespans for older adults.

In 1940, the average life expectancy for women aged 65 was 79.7 and men at 65 were expected to live to be 77.7. In the last 40 years, life expectancy for 65-year-olds has increased only about 5 years, and most of those extra years are being enjoyed by people in the top half of the income pool.

As blogger Ezra Klein explains, “the richer and whiter you are, the more your life expectancy has stretched. So raising the retirement age inflicts a double-blow on lower-income Americans: They already work more physically demanding jobs and die younger than the rich, but now they’re being told to work those jobs longer because people who aren’t them have seen large increases in life expectancy.”

Simpson refused to accept these facts about life expectancy, however.

Told that the data came directly from the Social Security Administration, Simpson continued to insist it was inaccurate, while misstating the nature of a statistical average: “If you’re telling me that a guy who got to be 65 in 1940 — that all of them lived to be 77 — that is just not correct. Just because a guy gets to be 65, he’s gonna live to be 77? Hell, that’s my genre. That’s not true,” said Simpson.

Again like his Pain Caucus compatriots, Simpson just dismisses anyone who calls him on his inaccurate facts, his mistaken assumptions, and the harsh recommendations his Truthiness leads him to make. He’s right at home in Idiot America.

Bill Sez: I’ll outsource the commentary to blogger Matt Yglesias:

[A]ccording to former Senator Alan Simpson, not only did he not familiarize himself with the relevant life expectancy data during his many years in the Senate, he’s never once brought it up during his months of work on a commission specifically charged with re-evaluating America’s retirement programs. And this, in turn, tells you a lot about how Washington works. There are tons of people in this town who know lots of things about public policy. But possessing this knowledge isn’t considered an important qualification for these kind of jobs.

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