Friday, April 25, 2008

Social Security Avoids the Wall Street Roller Coaster

For baby-boomers who’ve been watching their retirement investment income lose money week by week, the fact that Social Security remains stable and predictable while Wall Street is anything but is critically important. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls the failure to privatize Social Security “the best thing that didn’t happen during the Bush administration”:

“... had we privatized, they’d (retirees) be totally reliant on the stock market. And look what’s happened to the market: Compared to stock values ten years ago, the S&P 500 has risen a little over 1 percent a year, adjusted for inflation. Even Treasury bonds have done better. Go back nine years and there’s been no gain at all. Go back eight years and the market has been off an average of 1.4 percent a year.”

This isn’t a unique analysis. Even a member of President Bush’s own Social Security Commission and a private accounts supporter, co-authored an analysis for the National Bureau of Economic Research which showed promises of higher returns with private accounts just didn’t hold up to scrutiny:

“...the popular argument that Social Security privatization would provide higher returns for all current and future workers is misleading, because it ignores transition costs and differences across programs in the allocation of aggregate and household risk.” The paper states: “A popular argument suggests that if Social Security were privatized, everyone could earn higher returns. We show that this is false.”

Still not convinced? Here’s the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis:

“This paper explains the basis of findings that economists broadly agree upon — that the type of rate-of-return comparison that some Administration officials and other private-accounts proponents are using is not valid, and that when analytically valid comparisons are made, the supposed differences in rates of return essentially disappear.”

Social Security is an insurance program, not an investment vehicle. Social Security is not supposed to make you rich, it is supposed to prevent you from slipping into poverty. Social Security is the one insurance program that provides some measure of economic support for Americans if a family wage earner dies or becomes disabled. Privatizing Social Security turns a safety net for everyone into a golden parachute for a few.

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