Privatizing Social Security
Pros and Cons
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Last updated on: 3/18/2011 12:08:43 PM PST

Should Social Security Be Privatized?


PRO (yes) CON (no)
The Project on Social Security Choice wrote in an article titled "FAQ on Social Security" on www.socialsecurity.org (accessed Dec. 3, 2009):
"...Social Security is already $12.8 trillion in debt. By switching to a personal retirement account system and taking advantage of compound asset growth we will be able to reduce that debt. Social Security's costs are already there.

By switching to personally invested retirement accounts we can move some of those costs forward and reduce Social Security's debt and bring the system back into solvency. Tough decisions must be made about where to get the money to move those costs forward and pay them now so that we are not paying more later. While paying those costs now may seem expensive, it is much less expensive than continuing with the current system."

Dec. 3, 2009 - Project on Social Security Choice 

George W. Bush, MBA, 43rd US President, said in his State of the Union address on Feb. 2, 2005:
"As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts. Here is how the idea works. Right now, a set portion of the money you earn is taken out of your paycheck to pay for the Social Security benefits of today's retirees. If you are a younger worker, I believe you should be able to set aside part of that money in your own retirement account, so you can build a nest egg for your own future.

Here is why personal accounts are a better deal. Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver -- and your account will provide money for retirement over and above the check you will receive from Social Security. In addition, you'll be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children or grandchildren. And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away.

The goal here is greater security in retirement, so we will set careful guidelines for personal accounts. We will make sure the money can only go into a conservative mix of bonds and stock funds. We will make sure that your earnings are not eaten up by hidden Wall Street fees. We will make sure there are good options to protect your investments from sudden market swings on the eve of your retirement. We will make sure a personal account can't be emptied out all at once, but rather paid out over time, as an addition to traditional Social Security benefits. And we will make sure this plan is fiscally responsible, by starting personal retirement accounts gradually, and raising the yearly limits on contributions over time, eventually permitting all workers to set aside four percentage points of their payroll taxes in their accounts."

Feb. 2, 2005 - George W. Bush, MBA 

The President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security (CSSS) wrote in a Dec. 2001 report titled "Strengthening Social Security and Creating Personal Wealth for All Americans" on the US Government Printing Office website:
"Social Security will be strengthened if modernized to include a system of voluntary personal accounts.

Retirement security will be increased through personal accounts because they would facilitate wealth creation for individual participants.

Strengthening Social Security to include personal accounts can add valuable protections for widows, divorced persons, low-income households and other Americans at risk of poverty in old age.

Personal accounts would permit individuals to seek a higher rate of return on their Social Security contributions, offering higher total expected benefits to individuals with accounts than those lacking them.

Partial advance funding of Social Security should be a goal of any effort to strengthen the system. Advance funding within Social Security can best be accomplished through personal accounts rather than direct government investment.

The Commission finds that the establishment of personal accounts is likely to lead to an increase in national saving.

The Commission believes that the establishment of personal accounts will improve incentives for labor force participation."

Dec. 2001 - President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security (CSSS) 

Charles E. Rounds, Jr., JD, Professor of Law at Suffolk University, in an Apr. 19, 2000 Social Security Privatization article titled "Property Rights: The Hidden Issue of Social Security Reform," wrote:
"Given the [Social Security] program’s looming financial crisis, benefit cutbacks are increasingly likely. Therefore, the entirely political nature of Social Security places workers’ retirement security at considerable risk. Indeed, Congress has already arbitrarily reduced Social Security benefits of some groups of workers. Moreover, because Social Security benefits are not a worker’s property, they are not inheritable.

In contrast, a privatized Social Security system, based on individual accounts, would provide workers with the benefits and the safeguards of true ownership."

Apr. 19, 2000 - Charles E. Rounds, Jr., JD 

Michael D. Tanner, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, in an Oct. 28, 2003 article titled "The Better Deal: Estimating Rates of Return under a System of Individual Accounts" on www.cato.org:
"...[I]nvestment in private capital assets provides a higher rate of return than can be earned through the current PAYGO Social Security system... Even those groups that receive the highest returns under Social Security, such as low-income, single-earner couples, would receive higher rates of return through private investment. Higher returns would, in turn, mean higher retirement benefits.

Given the other advantages of individual accounts, such as inheritability, ownership, and equity, Social Security reform based on private capital investment is clearly superior to the current Social Security system."

Oct. 28, 2003 - Michael D. Tanner 

Jagadeesh Gokhale, PhD, former Senior Economic Advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, wrote in a Dec. 6, 2001 article titled "The Impact of Social Security Reform on Low-Income Workers" in Social Security Privatization:
"Many less-well-off households- particularly minority households and those with low education and earnings - currently save very little and therefore own almost no financial wealth at retirement. As a result, the distribution of bequeathable wealth among retirees in the United States is highly unequal. There is strong evidence that Social Security, which forces the poor to annuitize a large fraction of what would otherwise be their retirement savings, may be contributing to this inequality.

In contrast, a system of individual accounts would allow workers to accumulate real and bequeathable wealth and would lead ultimately to greater equality of wealth.

Social Security privatization therefore becomes the truly progressive option for reform - one that is most likely to benefit the poor."

Dec. 6, 2001 - Jagadeesh Gokhale, PhD 

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., MS, journalist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote in a Jan. 21, 2009 article titled "Can Obama Make Government Solvent?" on online.wsj.com:
"...[T]hose who think the recent halving of America's 401(k)s proves the unwisdom of such [private savings] reforms should think again. Today's workers should be so lucky to get a realistic picture of what Social Security and Medicare might pay when they retire. In contrast, their mutual-fund statements are a model of transparent honesty about current expectations of future earnings of American business."

Jan. 21, 2009 - Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., MS 

Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas, stated at the Oct. 21, 2007 Republican Presidential Debate in Orlando, FL:
"The president [George W. Bush] had the right idea, but he used the wrong word. When he used the word privatization, it scared the daylights out of a lot of people...

The right word is personalization. Empower individuals to have a greater say over their money. And that's what it is. Keep the government from robbing the trust funds, which is something that, if it was done in the private sector, would get a guy in jail."

Oct. 21, 2007 - Mike Huckabee 

The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) wrote in an Apr. 28, 2010 email from John Rother, AARP Executive Vice President of Policy and Strategy, to ProCon.org:
"AARP strongly opposes these proposals [to divert Social Security payroll taxes to private accounts]. Private accounts in place of Social Security are risky, expensive to administer, and require huge increases in the federal debt. AARP believes there are better and more responsible ways to strengthen the system.

To compensate for the loss of Social Security revenue sent into private accounts, the federal government would have to borrow significant sums for the next several decades in order to continue to pay promised benefits to currently retiring beneficiaries. One prominent proposal would require $1 billion in the first 10 years the private accounts were in place. Then, $3.5 trillion would be needed in the following decade. Younger workers would have to bear much of the burden for paying this debt. That's not right, and it's not fair to them.

Social Security is an insurance program, not an investment program. The essence of Social Security is that it has always been risk-free for all of us. It's also inflation-proof - something neither investments, nor even many pensions, can guarantee. Private accounts within Social Security would add a large measure of personal risk. AARP has publicly stated many times that there are places in retirement planning that are appropriate for taking risks, such as 401(k) plans, Individual Retirement Accounts, and mutual funds, but they should be in addition to the guarantee of Social Security."

Apr. 28, 2010 - AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) 

Barack Obama, JD, 44th US President, stated on Aug. 18, 2010 in "Remarks by the President at a Discussion with Ohio Families on the Economy" on the White House website:
"I have been adamant in saying that Social Security should not be privatized and it will not be privatized as long as I'm President. And here’s the reason. I was opposed to it before the financial crisis. And what I said was the purpose of Social Security is to have that floor, that solid -- rock-solid security, so that no matter what else happens you’ve always got some income to support you in your retirement. And I've got no problem with people investing in their 401(k)s, and we want to encourage people to invest in private savings accounts. But Social Security has to be separate from that...

So here’s the thing. Social Security is not in crisis. What is happening is, is that the population is getting older, which means we've got more retirees per worker than we used to. We're going to have to make some modest adjustments in order to strengthen it. There are some fairly modest changes that could be made without resorting to any newfangled schemes that would continue Social Security for another 75 years, where everybody would get the benefits that they deserve."

Aug. 18, 2010 - Barack Obama, JD 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) wrote in a Feb. 2008 article titled "Myths and Realities about Social Security and Privatization" on www.ncpssm.org:
"Many myths and misconceptions have contributed to the belief that Social Security is in imminent danger and that Social Security privatization is the answer. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that Social Security will continue to provide millions of retirees a sound, stable retirement. It may require some modest adjustments over a period of time, but it does not face an insurmountable crisis requiring major structural changes. Privatization, on the other hand, will unravel Social Security's important insurance protections, force huge cuts in benefits, increase risks to retirees, and cost trillions of dollars. Social Security has been providing Americans a secure retirement for nearly three quarters of a century. With sensible action it can continue to provide that security for decades to come."

Feb. 2008 - National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) 

Libby Perl, Analyst in Housing at the Congressional Research Service, stated in a Mar. 9, 2005 article titled "False Promise: How Social Security Privatization Would Sting Young Adults" on www.socsec.org:
"Advocates of Social Security privatization are selling the idea of private accounts to young people as the best way to secure their future retirement. Yet under the Social Security plan outlined in President Bush’s 2005 State of the Union address, sustaining promised benefits for those age fifty-five and over would require the government to borrow nearly $5 trillion over twenty years...

I
f privatization proposals were adopted, young people would lose in three significant ways:
  • Reduction of Benefits. The Commission’s privatization proposal would, over the next 47 years, reduce benefit levels by as much as 44 percent below current Social Security benefits, and 28 percent lower than the benefits that would be provided even after the trust funds become depleted.

  • A Change in How Benefits Are Calculated... This plan would end the policy of linking Social Security benefits to wage growth, a practice that has been in effect since the 1970s...

  • Performance and Administrative Costs of Private Accounts. Returns on private accounts are not likely to be as high as some privatization advocates predict. Some will do better than the averages quoted and some worse. No matter how the stocks perform, workers who elect to create investment accounts would receive even deeper cuts in their guaranteed benefits in order to pay back the money borrowed to finance the account."

Mar. 9, 2005 - Libby Perl 

Greg Anrig, Vice President of Programs, and Bernard Wasow, PhD, Senior Fellow of Programs, both at the Century Foundation, wrote in a Dec. 14, 2004 article titled "Twelve Reasons Why Privatizing Social Security Is a Bad Idea" on www.socsec.org:
"Addressing Social Security's potential long-term financing challenges by taking the dramatic step of diverting its payroll taxes to create new personal accounts would represent a radical departure; it also would be a bad idea...

Current Social Security insurance protections have served the country well for decades. Diluting those protections in exchange for new accounts poses all kinds of new risks while making the relatively manageable long-term challenges confronting Social Security far more immediate and severe."

Dec. 14, 2004 - Bernard Wasow, PhD 
Greg Anrig 

Peter A. Diamond, PhD, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Peter R. Orszag, PhD, Joseph A. Pechman Senior Fellow in Tax and Fiscal Policy at the Brookings Institution, in a June 2002 report titled "Reducing Benefits and Subsidizing Individual Accounts: An Analysis of the Plans Proposed by the President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security" on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website, wrote:
"...[T]he individual accounts themselves would worsen Social Security’s balance over the next 75 years. Moreover, the individual accounts would have an adverse effect on Social Security’s financial condition on a permanent basis, rather than just during a 'transition period'."

June 2002 - Peter R. Orszag, PhD 
Peter A. Diamond, PhD 

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) wrote in an article titled "What Is Meant by Social Security 'Privatization'?" on www.afscme.org (accessed Dec. 3, 2009):
"AFSCME strongly favors personal savings for retirement and has fought for savings plans in the workplace. Savings/investments are an important leg in the 'three-legged stool' of retirement income, the others being Social Security and pensions. But Social Security privatization would make the stool wobbly by combining the Social Security and savings legs. Somehow, a two-legged stool doesn’t seem as sturdy.

The stool looks even more wobbly when you consider that the majority of workers retire without pensions and fewer employers now offer them. In fact, two-thirds of Social Security recipients count on Social Security for at least half their income."

Dec. 3, 2009 - American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 

Francis X. Cavanaugh, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, is quoted in an Aug. 22, 2001 press release titled "Former Thrift Savings Plan Director to Talk with Reporters about Problems of Privatized Social Security" on the Campaign for America's Future website:
"Privatized Social Security accounts will require massive government bureaucracy - and they are doomed to failure."

Aug. 22, 2001 - Frances X. Cavanaugh 

Ralph Nader, LLB, attorney, author, and political activist, stated in a Jan. 21, 1999 speech at the "Saving Social Security from the Privatization Threat" Conference held in the Rayburn House Office Building of the US House of Representatives:
"The various Social Security privatization schemes, full and partial, would cost both the 'social' - that is the public, cooperative, societal - element of the program and 'security' - the rock-solid income guarantee afforded by the system. It should be rejected."

Jan. 21, 1999 - Ralph Nader, LLB 

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