26 Nov 2007

What’s Wrong With Social Security?


Megan McArdle, in the Atlantic, identifies a number of the economically distorting impacts of Social Security.

The real problem with the Social Security system: not that it is bankrupt, but that it encourages people to make extremely bad decisions about providing for their future.

It starts with childbearing: social security systems seem to exert downward pressure on birthrates, in effect undermining their own actuarial base. Social security socializes the benefits of childbearing in providing for retirement, but no one has yet figured out how to socialize the main cost, which is turning your life choices over to a screaming pre-verbal dictator. People are thus tempted to free ride on the childbearing of others, and the more generous benefits are, the more they seem to free ride. This is one reason that Social Security, which used to have more than 30 workers for each retiree, now has only three, headed towards two.

Social Security also encourages people to leave the workforce earlier than they otherwise would. People are healthier than ever at 65, but while in 1950, almost half of all men over the age of 65 worked, that number is now less than 20%. This appears to be highly correlated with the spread of defined benefit pensions such as social security, which offer no advantage to delaying retirement. Indeed, Social Security perversely penalizes anyone who takes early benefit but continues to work, docking a third of their earnings.

Finally, Social Security discourages private savings. This is terrible for two reasons. If future fiscal problems force the government to reduce benefits, the people who didn’t save enough because they relied on those promises will be made much worse off than they would otherwise have been.

The other problem is that Social Security is not a productive investment. Privately saved money is mostly lent to corporations that mostly use the money to do things that make the economy more productive, such as R&D and capital equipment upgrades. Social security “contributions” are lent to the government, where they are mostly spent on things that could not be remotely described as improving our economy’s productive capacity, such as farm subsidies.

Via Hal_10000, who adds:

The hilarious thing is the response from the liberals. Everything McArdle says is supported by economic research. You will find no economist, for example, who will dispute that Social Security cause earlier and more costly retirements. But the liberals, as they do on everything related to Social Security, stick their fingers in their ears and scream, “Nah! Nah! Nah! Nah! Nah! I am not listening. FDR was great! You hate old people!”

The biggest problem with government is people focusing on what programs purport to do rather than what they actually do.

There is also the problem with liberals’ worship of the State leading them to believe that the kind of thing which leads inevitably to economic disaster in the private sphere (for example, a Ponzi scheme) will work out differently if undertaken by government.

Ultimately via the Barrister.

One Feedback on "What’s Wrong With Social Security?"

Scott D

When Social Security was first created it was characterized as a SUPPLEMENT to your retirement savings. Leave it to Democrats to re-position it as a free retirement plan from your beneficent government. No need to take charge of your own future. We’ll do it for you.

In LiberalThink, the only reason a Ponzi scheme is bad is because an individual is the beneficiary of the scheme. Once government becomes the operator, it ceases to be bad. Las Vegas casinos are bad. Gambling run by the State or by Indian tribes is good.


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