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Posts Tagged ‘social security’

I’m just making up the 1.94 percent number, but the International Herald Tribune reported last year that unfunded liabilities in France are nearly 550 percent of GDP. The news reports don’t include any estimates of what Sarkozy’s reform will mean, but I would be surprised if it had a big impact on France’s long-run fiscal nightmare. But, as the old saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step, and Sarkozy has pushed through the reforms notwithstanding protests and riots from left-wing unions and brain-dead students (who don’t seem to realize that they’ll pay even higher taxes if entitlements aren’t reformed).

Under pressure from the government, the French Senate voted Friday to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, a victory for President Nicolas Sarkozy after days of street rage, acrimonious debate and strikes that dried up the supply of gasoline across the country. The vote all but sealed passage of the highly unpopular measure, but it was unlikely to end the increasingly radicalized protests. The coming days promised more work stoppages and demonstrations by those who feel changing the retirement age threatens a French birthright. …Leftist critics called the move a denial of democracy by an increasingly confrontational president. “No, you haven’t finished with retirement. You haven’t finished with the French,” said Socialist Sen. Jean-Pierre Bel, alluding to an apparently unflagging determination by unions, now joined by students, to keep protests alive — even through the upcoming week of school holidays.

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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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I sometimes joke that the French are the world’s most statist people. I have no idea if that is actually true, but the latest protests in France certainly are a good piece of evidence. French workers (especially government bureaucrats) are protesting a plan to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62. They apparently think marching in the street will magically change demographic reality. I discuss this issue in a new Cato Institute Podcast.

Incidentally, my comments are not favorable to Sarkozy. I point out that his pension proposal is just a tiny step in the right direction, and that any positive impact is undermined by concomitant class-warfare tax increases.

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Just because something is free, that doesn’t mean there is no cost. This is the core message of Walter Williams’ column, which uses the example of “employer-paid” Social Security taxes to explain how politicians specialize in giving us very expensive things for “free.”

Scarcity means there’s no free lunch. Having more of one thing requires having less of another. You might say, “Williams, that’s where you’re wrong. Someone gave me this newspaper and I’m reading your column for free!” Not true. If you weren’t spending time reading my column, you might have spent the time reading something else, chatting with your wife or children, or going out for a jog. You’re reading my column for a zero price but you’re not doing so at zero cost. You have to sacrifice something. There are zero-price services such as “free libraries,” “free public schools,” “free transportation” and free whatever. It doesn’t mean that costs are not being borne by somebody.

The vision of getting something for nothing, or getting something that someone else has to pay for, explains why so many Americans are duped by politicians. A congressional hoax that’s flourished for seven decades is the Social Security hoax that half of the Social Security tax (6.2 percent) is paid by employers, the other half (6.2 percent) paid by employees. The law says that if you are self-employed, you get to pay both halves. The fact of the matter is whether you’re self-employed or not, you pay both halves of the Social Security tax that totals 12.4 percent. Let’s look at it.

Suppose you hire me and our agreed-upon weekly salary is $500. From that $500, you’re going to deduct $31 as my share of the Social Security tax and you’re going to add $31 as the so-called employer’s share, sending a total of $62 to the IRS. Here’s the question: What is the weekly cost for you to hire me? I hope you answered $531.

…The reason why Congress created the fiction of the employer share was to deceive us into thinking that we’re paying fewer taxes than we in fact are.

Reminds me of P.J. O’Rourke’s famous line about, “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.”

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Unlike the United States and most European nations, Chile does not face a long-term Social Security crisis. This is because lawmakers shifted to a system of personal accounts almost 30 years ago. As a result, Chile’s economy is much stronger, the financial system is healthy, workers are better off, and taxpayers are protected. It also turns out that a system of personal accounts has a positive impact on the labor supply of older workers. Instead of getting lured into retirement by a punitive tax-and-transfer government system, they remain active to reap the rewards of a system that rewards them (rather than tax collectors) for continued work. A former World Bank expert has the details in a new report from the National Center for Policy Analysis.

American workers live longer each decade but they continue to retire early. They often begin receiving Social Security benefits, quit working and stop contributing to national output well before age 65. Reversing these trends must be an important objective when designing long-term reforms to balance revenues and expenditures on elderly entitlements.

Chile faced similar problems prior to 1981. It had a traditional pay-as-you-go defined benefit system, like Social Security in the United States. Workers had strong incentives to start their retirement benefits as soon as possible, because postponing pensions and adding contributions did not increase benefits commensurately. Labor force participation dropped dramatically when workers became eligible for pensions.

This changed with reforms in 1981 that replaced the defined benefit system with a defined contribution system. All new workers were required to join the defined contribution system while existing workers had a choice. Most workers are now in the new system and are required to contribute 10 percent of their wages to an individual account. Contributions are invested in a pension fund chosen by the worker and accumulate a market rate of return. Payouts take the form of inflation-protected annuities or gradual withdrawals during retirement. The new system increased incentives for older workers to postpone retirement and continue working. The response was dramatic.

…Following the 1981 policy changes and reforms, and after controlling for other sources of change in retirement behavior, the percentage of individuals receiving early benefits fell significantly:

  • The proportion who received benefits before age 65 decreased by about 8 percentage points.
  • The proportion of individuals who started receiving retirement benefits by their early 60s fell by about a quarter.
  • The proportion who started receiving benefits by their 50s was cut in half.

Postponing the commencement of benefits could be due to market returns on additional contributions, which made workers more willing to continue working in order to save more money for retirement. Or it could be due to tighter preconditions on early retirement, which required more individuals to continue working until age 65. Tighter preconditions seem to dominate, as the percentage of individuals who receive benefits after 65 has not changed.

More older workers kept working following the reform, after controlling for other factors:

  • Labor force participation rates for individuals in their 50s rose 12 percentage points.
  • Labor force rates rose 13 percentage points for those aged 65-70.
  • Individuals aged 60-64 increased their labor force participation the most – by 19 percentage points.

The biggest change in labor force participation was for individuals who had started receiving benefits from their retirement accounts:

  • Participation rates rose by 15 percentage points for pension recipients in their late 60s.
  • Rates rose by 28 percentage points for those in their 50s and early 60s.
  • Among all pension recipients under age 70, the proportion who continued working more than doubled.

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Here’s my debate on Larry Kudlow’s show about Social Security personal retirement accounts.

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My Cato colleague Jose Pinera makes a powerful argument for “privatizing” Social Security, which is something that has happened in about 30 nations.

My Ph.D. dissertation was on Australia’s private system, so I’ve always had a soft spot for this issue. Sadly, Washington is busy creating new entitlements instead of fixing the ones we already have.

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