Texas Gov. Rick Perry stuck to his claim during last night’s presidential debate that Social Security is “a Ponzi scheme.” The media are getting a lot of mileage out of that sound bite, and the Ponzi-scheme debate is very much alive this morning.
On Thursday’s “Squawk Box” on CNBC, CME Group floor reporter Rick Santelli, known to some as the father of the tea party movement, challenged New York Times columnist and Rick Perry critic Thomas Friedman on that claim.
“I’d just like to know — you know, I was watching that debate last night, although it really wasn’t a debate,” Santelli said. “It was like a weird press conference. But I would like to know — does Mr. Friedman think Social Security is a Ponzi scheme?”
That led to a heated back-and-forth between Friedman and Santelli:
FRIEDMAN: No, I don’t think it’s a Ponzi scheme.
SANTELLI: Earlier in the show you said that we’re putting a burden on our kids that’s unsustainable. What’s the definition of a Ponzi scheme?
FRIEDMAN: It’s a program that made promises that it cannot keep in full and it needs to be fixed and reformed.
SANTELLI: Isn’t that exactly what a Ponzi pyramid is?
FRIEDMAN: I don’t think it is a Ponzi scheme as a criminal endeavor.
SANTELLI: No, no — forget the criminal side. You need more people to perpetuate a myth because if the people stop the myth is known to all. That’s my definition of a Ponzi scheme. Let’s call at it chain letter, a pyramid scheme. Isn’t that by definition what Social Security is? Take the legalities and fraud out.
STEVE LIESMAN: Why is it a Ponzi scheme, Rick?
FRIEDMAN: It is pay as we go. Ronald Reagan fixed it. Why can’t we fix it?
SANTELLI: What does Ronald Reagan have to do with my question?
FRIEDMAN: What does your question have to do with reality?
MICHELLE CARUSO CABRERA: We brought it up.
SANTELLI: You can’t decide that more people is the only thing made Social Security work. We have a real issue because many people in government seem to like to read your work.
FRIEDMAN: What makes Social Security work is fixing Social Security in terms of the population demands.
SANTELLI: I didn’t ask if we should fix it or not. I asked if it’s a pyramid scheme.
FRIEDMAN: Your question is idiotic. That’s what you asked.
SANTELLI: You’re idiotic. I’m done. I feel good.
FRIEDMAN: So do I.