About your Social Security “account”

Jeff Jacoby:

You don’t have to be a financial wizard to know that Social Security is a lousy investment. Unlike the money you deposit in a bank or salt away in an IRA, you don’t own the money you pay into Social Security. You have no legal right to get those dollars back, and when you die you can’t pass them on to your heirs. Nor can you use your Social Security account before you retire — you can’t borrow against it and you can’t cash it in. You aren’t allowed to put the money into a balanced portfolio. You can’t even watch as the interest accumulates, since your Social Security nest egg doesn’t earn any interest.

Your nest egg, in fact, doesn’t even exist. Because Social Security is financed on a pay-as-you-go system, the dollars withheld from your paycheck today aren’t being saved in an account with your name. They are immediately paid out to retirees. The benefits you receive when you retire will be funded by the payroll taxes then being collected. But because the ratio of workers paying in to retirees taking out is steadily shrinking — it has plummeted from 16 to 1 in 1940 to 3 to 1 today — Social Security is headed for a crisis.


This of course is the background to President Bush’s campaign to create personal investment accounts, which for the first time would allow workers to own and invest — really own, really invest — part of the Social Security tax taken from their paychecks. With personal accounts many of the features that make Social Security such a crummy deal for today’s workers would be transformed into a package most of them could support. A social-welfare program created in the age of gramophones and the Model A would be updated for a world of iPods and superhighways.

But to many Democrats, such talk is heresy. Letting Americans own some of their Social Security would be too risky, they argue – another way of saying that Americans are too dumb to be entrusted with their own money. Much better to continue entrusting it to Washington, which has managed Social Security so skillfully that workers younger than 50 know they will never get back in benefits what they are paying into the system now. (Perhaps that explains why 58 percent of Americans under 50 support personal accounts, according to a new poll by Zogby International.)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: can we get politicans brave enough to just kill Social Security once and for all? Pick a year, grandfather in everyone born prior to that year, and those born after are on their own for retirement. Year after year, as those in the program die off, the amount required to sustain Social Security will dwindle, and ultimately, two or three generations from now, no longer exist. Why is this such a hard concept to grasp? Forget partial privatization of this government-run Ponzi scheme, just kill it!