It was just satire, right? Somebody tell me that, please. Surely a man who has a Ph.D. in economics, teaches at Princeton University, won a Nobel Prize and writes a column for the New York Times could not have been serious in a recent factually amiss, ill-informed, conceptually baffled, ad hominem-driven piece on Social Security.

Try to restrain the giggles during this brief review of Paul Krugman's statements. He said people trying to restructure Social Security were attacking it. He said there's no worry about the money. The payroll tax and its trust fund surpluses will see us through until 2037 and the hit then will be nothing much, he assured us before moving on to his assessment of proffered solutions to what he sees as a non-problem.

They're all cruel, he reported. Get it? Cruel!

I know, I know, you are rolling on the floor in a fit of hilarity, but do listen as I try to get us past this comedy, dealing for starters with Krugman's contention that would-be reformers are conservative thugs wanting to dismantle this shining example of governmental competence. In fact, many understanding the necessity of change are liberals, even President Barack Obama, and the point is rescue, not destruction, which is what would happen to the career of any politician espousing that end.

There is another reason for acting. This gradually failing Ponzi scheme — the program does indeed have deep structural flaws — could contribute mightily to a ruinous national debt. Contrary to Krugman's shoulder shrugging, the payroll tax is stumbling toward insufficiency. Because of the recession, it will be in the red this year, and, even with no recession, will be permanently inadequate by 2015, according to officials doing the arithmetic about the cost of ever more baby-boomer retirees.

Krugman says the trust fund will then kick in, saving us from any need for Congressional action for another couple of decades. But the trust fund does not consist of real assets lying around someplace. It is an accounting device saying the government must repay Social Security for the surpluses it has spent on other things, doing so through the only means available: borrowing, higher taxes or cutting other programs.

Borrowing? On top of all the other debt, you can't do it, at least not for long. It would kill us. Higher taxes? To do the job, they would eventually have to be exorbitant. Cuts in other programs? Well, over the decades, it would be goodbye to an awful lot, and it's just not going to happen.

The answer is reshaping an element or two of Social Security, and there are ways of doing this that are about as cruel as buying a kid an ice cream cone.

My favorite is to redo the indexing method for initial Social Security benefits for all but the lowest income recipients, using prices rather than wages as the determinant. You can thus keep benefit levels for retirees no lower relative to income than they are now while actually adjusting them upwards for inflation. With just a few more pushes and shoves, you will have solved the problem.

Krugman didn't mention this. He did mention the GOP's insistence on doing nothing to affect current recipients or those close to collecting benefits. Krugman seems to think this is a trick when it actually aims at giving people time to adjust their expectations and make other plans if necessary.

In the end, Krugman is not joking. He is not a clown. He is an ideologue. Among those making the point is Robert Barro, a Harvard economist who said in an Internet interview that Krugman "just says whatever is convenient for his political argument," not what makes economic sense. And you know something? It's actually not very funny.

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at