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Snow jobbing Social Security

September 5, 2019

With winter looming over many of us, consider snow jobs and Social Security.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “snow job” as “an intensive effort at persuasion or deception.” Lexico defines it as “A deception or concealment of one's real motive in an attempt to flatter or persuade.” The Urban Dictionary calls it “An effort to deceive, overwhelm, or persuade with insincere talk, especially flattery.”

Another version comes from The Cambridge Dictionary, which refers to a “snow job” as “an attempt to persuade someone to do something, or to persuade someone that something is good or true, when it is not.”

I’ve been putting together a public finance glossary, and various references to Social Security were what sparked this mission seeking out what people mean by the term “snow job.” That last definition from The Cambridge Dictionary seems to ring loud and true, when thinking about how the government frames Social Security spending.

The federal government puts spending in two categories. One category is called “Mandatory Spending,” and the other is called “Discretionary Spending.” Where do you think Social Security lies?

Social Security, also called an “entitlement” program, is included in “Mandatory Spending.” That sounds like something the government has to do, right? As opposed to discretionary spending, which seems to be subject to government discretion?

Trouble is, the government also chooses to exclude the massive unfunded obligation ($15 trillion+) for Social Security from the debts it reports on its balance sheet. The rationale for this discretionary choice? The government has stated that those are obligations under current law and policy, which the government can change at any time.

Does that sound like mandatory or discretionary spending to you?

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