I whole-heartedly agree with Atrios. The left needs to change the Social Security discussion by pointing out the obvious, loudly and often: Social Security, as currently constituted, is not adequate for the needs of most of America's citizens and that benefits should be increased. Atrios suggests an across the board 20% hike. If done for present recipients who get an average $1,100 a month, that's only a $220 a month increase. But that would certainly help a lot of people who lost retirement savings, particularly through home values but also in the stock market or to zero interest rate policies.
Atrios has also suggested that lowering the age at which a retiree can receive full benefits makes sense right now, as it might allow people laid off late career to simply retire rather than seek work in a crowded market.
All of this amounts to bottom up stimulus that could well drive economic growth, create jobs and broaden the Social Security tax base. Whether or not it would cover the costs would depend a lot on our priorities as tax receipts rise.
The immediate reaction to this will be that it is not a serious proposal. Social Security, say the reasonable people, needs to be reformed so that future benefits are lower than currently projected, but that only became conventional wisdom after much effective repetition.
We need to change the conversation somehow. The best bet, I think, is to always answer the question, "what should we do about Social Security?" with a simple answer: "Lower the retirement age and raise benefits."
We should also move the conversation away from actuarial talk and into the moral realm. We either do or don't believe that American workers deserve a retirement. Right now, the system is broken and retirement is not guaranteed to anybody. That be the focus of policy.