One More Time: “Payroll taxes” ARE NOT TAXES!

By Richard John Stapleton

Anybody should have known the Trumpies significantly lowering federal income taxes for elite rich civilians would increase the budget deficit, as would significantly increasing military expenditures for poor soldiers, sailors, and airmen, and their staff, and their fat cat civilian corporate suppliers.

According to this article the federal deficit reached about $800 billion for fiscal 2018. It is expected to rise to about $1 trillion in fiscal year 2019, the worst ever, starting October 1, 2018.

As shown here the federal budget is composed of mandatory spending for such things as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for US citizens and discretionary spending for such things as military employees, hardware, wars, and adventures.

Much lying and confusion goes on regarding the funding of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Most of the time in mainstream media people say money ordinary people pay for Social Security from their paychecks and organizational revenues are “payroll taxes,” which is a misnomer, or a lie, depending on the knowledge and intention of the writer or speaker. Those payments are FICA or Federal Insurance Contribution Act insurance payments.

Social Security payments to recipients are not welfare or operating expenses of the federal government; they are insurance benefits paid to people who paid into the Social Security insurance system, a quid pro quo.

I can build a case Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid should not be listed as part of the federal government budget. This whole operation is a large insurance company run by the federal government for the health and welfare of US citizens, producing monetary benefits related to premiums paid, potentially a very successful insurance company, given federal power to determine by law fair prices for drugs, surgeries, and hospital stays charged policy holders.

During various years after the creation of the Social Security system in 1935 social security payouts to beneficiaries were less than premiums paid into the system from deductions from payrolls and organizational revenues, now about 6.2 percent for employees and about 6.2 percent for organizations, about 12.5 percent of yearly income per insured person overall, up to a certain level of income, now $128,400 per year. This formula generated a surplus of about $3 trillion dollars up to 2018, piled up in a Social Security Trust Fund, which the federal government borrowed from in various years to pay its bills for discretionary activities and operations, including dramatic and unnecessary military adventures, and all the rest.

Unfortunately yearly social security premiums paid in are now less than social security payments paid out to beneficiaries, counting Medicare and Medicaid, and the federal government is now having to borrow money elsewhere yearly to pay back what it borrowed/robbed from its Social Security Trust Fund piggy bank through time, robbing Peter to pay Paul you might say, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Unfortunately this borrowing is not reflected in the yearly stated US budget deficit. The US federal government in fiscal 2019 will have to borrow more than $1 trillion, maybe as much as $1.3 trillion, assuming it can continue to find ordinary people, corporations, central banks, and government agencies willing and able to buy its treasury notes, bills, and bonds. For more background and details go here.

A major problem with this article , as with thousands of others, is that social security payments are not payroll taxes; they are FICA (Federal Insurance Contribution Act) contributions to an insurance plan, as shown here. You pay premiums into the insurance plan and you take your chances. You may get more out in benefits than you pay in, as is true with any insurance policy; but you might not. If you die early you won’t get as much out as you paid in. The fact the social security system piled up a surplus of some three trillion dollars from 1935 to 2018 indicates a lot of people have received less than they paid into the insurance plan.

Who was it that came up with the idea of calling FICA contributions payroll taxes in the first place, and for what purpose, to undermine the whole idea of selling and producing social security for all US citizens?

True enough the 1935 social security plan for all US citizens, now including Medicare and Medicaid, needs some calibration with respect to premium cash inflows and benefits cash outflows to remain viable indefinitely, not costing US taxpayers anything if well managed, as was the case for many years, saving many of them thousands of dollars over a lifetime; but even so the original social security business plan has years to go before it exhausts the cash surplus it generated, a surplus that was borrowed from in various years by profligate federal politicians to pay yearly pork barrel discretionary expenses they authorized to get reelected, aggregating a large loan they and their ilk are now begrudgingly having to pay back to the social security system, a legally obligated loan repayment mind you, not a frivolous discretionary pork barrel line item expense, or military expenses.

And for sure Social Security payments paid out to beneficiaries are not an implied unearned handout that caused the dramatic increase in the US budget deficit after the Trumpies took over, called an “entitlement” by bought and paid for politicians, such as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

Writers and speakers of all ilks, from bought and paid for propaganda mouthpieces to sincere truth-tellers, with evil and non-evil intent, on purpose with malice aforethought or inadvertently, generally demean, belittle, and besmirch the enlightened and highly effective US Social Security insurance plan for all citizens by labeling its premium payments the inaccurate, mean-spirited, pejorative, demeaning, rancor-engendering, confusion-sowing term “payroll taxes.”

It’s time to stop this sadistic scurrilous madness once and for all and get back to calling these premium payments what they used to be called, “FICA contributions,” an appropriate label honoring a magnificent piece of legislative wisdom in US history, the Federal Insurance Contribution Act of 1935.


Richard John Stapleton, PhD, CTA, an emeritus professor of entrepreneurship, organizational behavior, and business policy, is the Editor & Publisher of the Effective Learning Report, and a founder, owner, and operator of a profit-making small business, Effective Learning Company,

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