An Offer You Can’t Refuse

AN OFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE….Over at The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru thinks it’s unfair for the Washington Post to say that George Bush’s plan to create private accounts for Social Security would cost $2 trillion:

It is important to remember that the “cost” of private accounts is a matter of moving some of the Social Security system’s obligations forward in time….If private accounts are part of a deal in which workers accept a lower guaranteed benefit, the long-term costs of Social Security go down. And since those long-term costs are the chief good reason to be worried about deficits in the first place, the apparent price tag should not keep us from going forward with the accounts.

Now that’s a deal. In exchange for an extra $2 trillion in costs today, workers will get lower guaranteed benefits tomorrow! Who could say no to that?

I’ve read dozens of articles and white papers about private accounts for Social Security and I’ve yet to read one that provides even a single reason to think they’re a good idea in a practical (as opposed to an ideological) sense. What’s more, I say this in the most neutral, nonpartisan sense I can muster: I’ve genuinely tried to follow the arguments, but none of them make any sense.

Despite the best efforts of conservatives to scare everyone under 30 into thinking that Social Security is doomed, it’s actually in fine shape. It’s going to need some modest tax increases and some modest benefit reductions starting in about a decade (details here), but that’s it. People who suggest otherwise are either ignorant of the underlying numbers or else motivated by an ideological dislike of government programs for its own sake. A concern with providing stable pensions for the elderly doesn’t seem to play a role.