Especially in the age of “alternative facts,” it’s really important for policy makers and especially journalists to use clear, transparent language. One area where that’s particularly germane right now is in regard to cutting Social Security and Medicare.
Though many policy makers want to cut these social insurance programs, they rarely say “cut.” Instead, because the programs are so highly valued by recipients, policy makers say “reform,” “overhaul,” “change,” “revamp,” and “fix” the program. In the vast majority of these formulations, these verbs are euphemisms for cuts, and it’s very important for journalists to call them out as such.
When NPR writes that Trump’s nominee for budget chief Mick Mulvaney “wants to overhaul these entitlement programs,” for example, do readers understand that “overhaul” means reduce promised benefits? I’m sure many do not.
There are many variants of this problem when it comes to writing about the fiscal condition of these social insurance programs. When policy makers talk about “raising the retirement age” as a way to improve solvency, which sounds pretty benign, it’s essential to make clear that this is a benefit cut, as Kathleen Romig points out here:
– Jared Bernstein