George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

2010–Sep⁠t⁠5 Pr⁠i⁠n⁠t⁠ Med⁠i⁠a: Sou⁠t⁠h Flor⁠i⁠da Sun-Sen⁠t⁠⁠i⁠nel–McClure Op-Ed on Soc⁠i⁠al Secur⁠i⁠⁠t⁠y Reform

By: The James Madison Institute / 2010

JMI President Bob McClure’s opinion editorial on Social Security reform published in  South Florida Sun-Sentinel:  “Up Retirement Age, Add Private Accounts”.”If you want to know what’s wrong with the Social Security system, ask the people who once invested their life savings with Bernie Madoff. That’s because Social Security is an unsustainable Ponzi scheme that eventually will collapse, just as Madoff’s scheme did.Yet when Social Security comes tumbling down, the people hurt won’t be those formerly affluent investors whom Madoff hurt the most; rather, it’ll be the vulnerable, the elderly, the folks who put too much trust in a system that paid off handsomely for many years – until it couldn’t pay anymore.Many people still think Social Security is a retirement savings plan into which Americans pay when they are working and draw out of when they no longer work. But if you went to the Social Security Administration and asked to see the current balance in your account, you’d get a blank stare.That’s because Social Security isn’t really a retirement savings plan; it’s a government transfer program that takes money from today’s younger Americans and gives it to today’s older Americans. And while the initial goal of this transfer program may have been noble – to provide economic security for the aged – the actual “security” that Social Security provides is eroding faster than the sand on some of South Florida’s most popular beaches.Several factors are contributing to Social Security’s unsustainable condition: One, the percentage of Americans paying into Social Security is shrinking. Two, the percentage of Americans drawing Social Security benefits is expanding – and will continue to grow as more and more members of the Baby Boom generation reach retirement age. Three, politicians from both parties have spent whatever perceived “funds” were set aside to protect the program.In short, it is bankrupt, and in the process, it is bankrupting America.Thankfully, there is still time for policymakers in Washington to put our nation’s old-age security system on a sustainable path without pulling out the rug from under America’s elderly. But policymakers must act soon – and they must stop playing politics with this issue.Indeed, Americans should throw out of office any political candidate who tells current Social Security recipients that reform will come at their expense. That’s the kind of demagoguery that has hindered reform in the past and has put our system in such a vulnerable state today.So, what needs to be done? Here are three simple ideas that would go a long way towards helping our old-age security system avoid a “Madoff future:”Raise the retirement age to reflect increases in life expectancy. When Social Security was enacted, the average life expectancy in America was 67 years. The system anticipated that the average retiree would retire at 65 and receive benefits for two years. Today, the average life expectancy in America is 78 years – and many Americans opt to retire early and start collecting reduced Social Security payments at age 62. Raising the retirement age gradually over time can and should be done without any adverse effect on current recipients and those on the brink of retirement.Give younger workers the opportunity to establish true retirement savings plans. While it is important for policymakers to fulfill their promises to older Americans who have been assured that they can rely on Social Security, it is also important for policymakers to offer younger workers a new – and better – promise. Specifically, policymakers should give younger workers the opportunity to take a portion of the monies they are currently paying into Social Security and voluntarily divert it into a true personal retirement savings plan – the kind that has an actual account balance. Those in Washington say that Americans aren’t smart enough to invest these dollars for retirement. Yet these same Americans buy homes, work jobs and raise children. With certain investment safeguards, why can’t they make wise decisions? They certainly wouldn’t do any worse than what the politicians in Washington have done. Once again, this reform can and should be adopted without jeopardizing the commitments made to current Social Security recipients and those on the brink of retirement.Repeal the scheduled tax increases, particularly on families with children. Unless Congress acts soon, a tax credit providing $1,000 per child in tax relief will expire at the end of 2010, thereby increasing the tax burden on millions of families with children. Not only is it bad economic policy to raise taxes in the middle of a recession, but it is especially bad policy to raise taxes on families with children because these taxpayers make a “double contribution” to Social Security. Their payroll taxes support today’s retirees, and their childrearing expenses help raise up the next generation of taxpayers on which Social Security depends. Thus, policymakers need to repeal this scheduled tax increase by renewing the so-called “Bush tax cuts.”Simply “raising revenue,” Washington speak for higher taxes on people and small businesses, has an 80-year track record of failure. Let’s actually try what will work. These and other common-sense reforms will help policymakers rein in runaway entitlement spending and put our nation’s old-age security system on a sustainable path. They will enable policymakers to fulfill the promises made to current Social Security recipients – while offering younger workers a true retirement savings plan instead of a Ponzi scheme that only a Bernie Madoff would love.”