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Posts Tagged ‘personal retirement accounts’

People periodically ask me why I’m so down on David Cameron, the Prime Minster of the United Kingdom. I’ve already pointed out that his pre-election agenda was big government. And I’ve pointed out that his post-election record is more spending.

(and you can read more of my whining and complaining here, here, here, here, and here)

But now I’m really disgusted, because the United Kingdom’s version of  George W. Bush is now reversing one of the few pro-market aspects of British policy.

The Wall Street Journal Europe is appropriately disappointed.

On Tuesday Iain Duncan Smith announced a sweeping reform of the U.K.’s state-pension system. In the name of simplification, the Work and Pensions Secretary plans to raise the basic pension, eliminate the current multitiered system—and pay for it all by rolling back the personal retirement accounts that were first introduced by the Thatcher Government in 1987. Pension systems across the developed world are being stretched to the breaking point as populations gray and governments face ballooning public debts. Britain today is in the privileged position of possessing on top of its public savings system an extensive private one, relatively insulated from the government’s increasingly uncertain ability to deliver on its pension liabilities. Pity, then, that Mr. Duncan Smith’s reforms serve in the long run mostly to entrench the unsustainable elements of the British system and trash the desirable ones.

Addendum: Jose Pinera reminds me that George W. Bush actually proposed personal retirement accounts in 2005, one of the few positive actions of his eight-year reign. So Cameron’s actions may put him even further to the left than Bush on economic policy, a rather challenging achievement.

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Yesterday was the 129th anniversary of Charles Ponzi’s birthday. Normal people don’t celebrate the birth of con artists, but a tediously left-wing columnist at the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson, must be a big admirer of Charles Ponzi, because he seems very happy that people don’t want to “cut” entitlements.

According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, three-quarters of Americans would oppose significant cuts in Medicare or Social Security.

The poll was dishonest, of course, since it was based on the Washington’s dishonest definition of budget cuts. In reality, the reforms that are being proposed would reduce the growth of spending. And I suspect that voters, if asked whether it is reasonable to have Medicare grow 5 percent each year rather than 7 percent each year, would provide more rational answers.

Heck, we already have good polling data showing that people support Social Security reform.

But public opinion is not the key issue. The bigger topic is whether anybody should be celebrating a government program that is actuarially bankrupt, particularly when it hurts minorities, penalizes job creation, and discourages savings.

But that’s just what some politicians are doing.

I’ve already posted a very funny cartoon about Bernie Madoff and Social Security, but hopefully this video has more substantive arguments for reform.

 

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There are two crises facing Social Security. First the program has a gigantic unfunded liability, largely caused by demographics. Second, the program is a very bad deal for younger workers, making them pay record amounts of tax in exchange for comparatively meager benefits. This video explains how personal accounts can solve both problems, and also notes that nations as varied as Australia, Chile, Sweden, and Hong Kong have implemented this pro-growth reform.

Social Security reform received a good bit of attention in the past two decades. President Clinton openly flirted with the idea, and President Bush explicitly endorsed the concept. But it has faded from the public square in recent years. But this may be about to change. Personal accounts are part of Congressman Paul Ryan’s Roadmap proposal, and recent polls show continued strong support for letting younger workers shift some of their payroll taxes to individual accounts.

Equally important, the American people understand that Social Security’s finances are unsustainable. They may not know specific numbers, but they know politicians have created a house of cards, which is why jokes about the system are so easily understandable.

President Obama thinks the answer is higher taxes, which is hardly a surprise. But making people pay more is hardly an attractive option, unless you’re the type of person who thinks it’s okay to give people a hamburger and charge them for a steak.

Other nations have figured out the right approach. Australia began to implement personal accounts back in the mid-1980s, and the results have been remarkable. The government’s finances are stronger. National saving has increased. But most important, people now can look forward to a safer and more secure retirement. Another great example is Chile, which set up personal accounts in the early 1980s. This interview with Jose Pinera, who designed the Chilean system, is a great summary of why personal accounts are necessary. All told, about 30 nations around the world have set up some form of personal accounts. Even  Sweden, which the left usually wants to mimic,  has partially privatized its Social Security system.

It also should be noted that personal accounts would be good for growth and competitiveness. Reforming a tax-and-transfer entitlement scheme into a system of private savings will boost jobs by lowering the marginal tax rate on work. Personal accounts also will boost private savings. And Social Security reform will reduce the long-run burden of government spending, something that is desperately needed if we want to avoid the kind of fiscal crisis that is afflicting European welfare states such as Greece.

Last but not least, it is important to understand that personal retirement accounts are not a free lunch. Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system, so if we let younger workers shift their payroll taxes to individual accounts, that means the money won’t be there to pay benefits to current retirees. Fulfilling the government’s promise to those retirees, as well as to older workers who wouldn’t have time to benefit from the new system, will require a lot of money over the next couple of decades, probably more than $5 trillion.

That’s a shocking number, but it’s important to remember that it would be even more expensive to bail out the current system. As I explain at the conclusion of the video, we’re in a deep hole, but it will be easier to climb out if we implement real reform.

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I am pleasantly shocked to see that a healthy majority of respondents favor partial privatization of Social Security. I knew support was reasonably strong several years ago, but I feared that the financial crisis would have made Americans more leery of financial markets. I also wondered whether the idea was discredited by its association with the Bush Administration. But a new Pew survey shows very good results, so maybe Republicans will feel more comfortable about developing a “secret plan” for Social Security reform.

…a majority favors a proposal to allow some private investments in Social Security… The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, sponsored by SHRM, conducted Sept. 9-12 among 1,001 adults, finds that 58% favor a proposal that would allow workers younger than age 55 to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts that would rise and fall with the markets; 28% oppose this proposal. Majorities across all age groups — except for those ages 65 and older — favor this proposal. …Support for the general concept is comparable to support for a similar plan advocated by former President George W. Bush in 2004. As he sought reelection in the fall of 2004, 58% of registered voters that September favored allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security; 26% said they opposed this change. However, after Bush won reelection and debate about the proposal began, support weakened. By March 2005, the public was largely split (44% favor, 40% oppose) and the proposal was not enacted.

P.S. The same poll shows that people are not sympathetic, however, to reforming Medicare, however, so the Social Security silver cloud does have a dark lining.

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