Monday, January 07, 2013

Social Security and the Cliff: A Response

January 7, 2013, 9:20 a.m.

Note: Normally I don't respond to critics. Adlai Stevenson once advised me, when I was Maritime Administrator and advocating polices not well received by the shipping and ship building industries, "Don't pay any attention to your critics, Nick. Don't even ignore them." I've pretty much followed that advice over the years. To the best of my recollection, the only comments deleted from this blog over the past six years have been advertisements for goods or services that were otherwise unrelated to the content of the blog entry. Critical comments have been retained and are still available.

However, a recent column of mine in the Iowa City Press-Citizen regarding the fiscal cliff and proposed modifications in Social Security inflation formulas produced two published letters to the editor containing what I consider to be factual inaccuracies regarding both the Social Security program and what I wrote about it. Given the importance of this program, and the fact that it will continue to be a subject of national discussion over the next few months, and that these letters will remain forever in the hard copy editions of the paper retained by libraries, I felt that a letter to the editor from me, at least noting my disagreement with those letters, with links to what I have written, was required.

My letter is reproduced, below, as it appeared in this morning's hard copy and online newspaper. (It is also available, as of this morning, here on the Press-Citizen online site, from which it will probably be removed by the paper a week or so from today [Jan. 7].)

Lest there be question, let me expressly disavow any suggestion that I'm asserting everything I've written is true, and everything my critics say is wrong. I have authored one newspaper column and a couple of blog entries on this subject -- neither a doctoral dissertation nor a congressional committee report. All I'm contending is that these issues are of sufficient significance to every American that no one's assertions -- not mine, and not my letter writers' -- should stand unchallenged. Everyone needs to participate in this discussion, and to the maximum extent possible try to make an effort to first get the facts.

One of the two (so far) critical letters contains as well comments that are, at best, ad hominem in nature and at worst defamatory. They will not be responded to, both because they have nothing to do with the Social Security issues and in accord with Ambassador Stevenson's advice.

The earlier bog entries on the subject, in which are imbedded my original column, the two letters to the editor, and some of the online comments from readers, can be found here: "Social Security: The Press-Citizen Column," December 26, 2012; "Social Security, Inflation, and Punishing the Poor," December 19, 2012, and the related "Rappelling Down the Fiscal Bluff," December 16, 2013.

Let's Move Beyond 'Tis-'Tain't
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 7, 2013

Regarding the letters, “Local Columnist Plain Wrong on Social Security” (Jan. 2), and “Johnson Refuses to Accept Reality” (Jan. 3), criticizing the column, “Proposed Social Security Changes Punish the Poor” (Dec. 26): “’Tis-’Tain’t” exchanges seldom produce agreement or even mutual understanding. Nor is there space in a letter to prolong the disagreements intelligently.

However, I would like the hard-copy Press-Citizen record to reveal my rejection of many of these letter writers’ assertions (as well as those in any future letters you run along the same lines). Links to the blog entries that have already addressed the matters raised in those letters -— blog entries that, over time, will be revised to contain these and other critics’ comments as well as the original column -— can be found at

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City
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