So the government borrows money from Social Security via those Treasury bonds and spends it on things like, say, the Bush tax cuts, wars, and economic stimulus.

When Social Security alarmists say the government has “squandered” the trust fund, they’re just expressing their opinion about the government’s budget priorities.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.