Unexpectedly Intriguing!
April 14, 2005

It could be karma. Then again, it may be harmonic convergence. Or maybe it's just the online equivalent of Thunderdome ("Two calculators enter, one calculator leaves!") No matter what the reason, today brings news of the final fall of one calculator in shame (the Democrats' Social Insecurity Calculator) and the birth of another (a new version of the Heritage Foundation's Social Security Calculator!")

Reid/Schumer Redux

First, the demise of the Democrats' calculator. Factcheck.org has finally gotten around to evaluating the many flaws of this tool, and has pronounced it to be "rigged," also finding that "it is based on a number of false assumptions and deceptive comparisons." That pronouncement will be no surprise to the readers of Political Calculations(TM), who could have read about the many failings of the tool heavily promoted by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) in the following posts (listed chronologically):

A New Sheriff in Town

Today also marks the introduction of a new version of the Heritage Foundation's calculator. My early impression - it's a good followup to the original product.

There are a number of changes between the original version and the new one. First, the calculator more closely models what the President has already proposed. Second, the calculator anticipates the direction in which the President may direct the actuarial reform of the Social Security system, adopting a method proposed by Robert Pozen which has only recently been hinted at in the President's public statements while barnstorming the country. This second change puts the Heritage Foundation's calculator at the forefront of all online calculators in being able to accurately model the President's plans. Third, the new version of the calculator takes spousal contributions and the survivor's insurance aspect of the program into account.

While these changes mark substantial improvements in the calculator, I should also note that the calculator has also been modified in ways that limit its previous flexibility. For example, the user must now enter into what range their age and their annual earnings fall, rather than being able to enter the exact number for both categories. I believe that this change, as well as others that limit several of the other options available to the calculator's users, was driven by Heritage's computer programming requirements, where Heritage's programmers have made a trade-off between rapid response times and flexibility. On the whole however, the improvements in the new version outweigh its limitations, making the programming trade-off a good one.

The bottom line: the Heritage Foundation's Social Security Calculator will definately get you into the ballpark of where you would be under a plan being developed by the White House which may be released in the very near future. It is still the tool to beat in demonstrating how you may or may not benefit from proposed reforms to Social Security.

Other Post-Mortems for the Senate Democrats' "Calculator"

Andrew Samwick at Vox Baby also notes the death of credibility of the Senate Democrats' "Social Insecurity" Calculator. Vox Baby had previously noted at least five major defects in the calculator's logic and assumptions.

aWpTiMuS had also noted many of the tool's defects, and took apart its underlying JavaScript code to decipher its doings.

Will Franklin notes Factcheck.org's disposal of the last shreds of the Senate Democrats' calculator's dignity at WILLisms.

Patrick Ruffini also unloads in Calculator Slugfest Redux - and pays this coder a very nice compliment.

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