As baby boomers retire over the next three decades, some claim they will break the bank of the Social Security system. These fears of insolvency have generated a wide range of reform proposals, some of which would transform the current program drastically.
Robert Eisner, however, argues that many of the proposed reforms would undermine Social Security’s continuing success in dramatically alleviating poverty among the elderly. In this clearly written, provocative report, Eisner rejects the most alarmist views about the solvency of Social Security and provides a blueprint for keeping the system strong and fair. He makes the case that projections about the future of the program are overly pessimistic and that, even if borne out, minor adjustments in tax and benefit levels could keep the system functioning effectively. Eisner suggests that the system could be made more efficient and fair by paying benefits out of general income taxes instead of current payroll taxes. Because income taxes are relatively progressive, taxing earnings from sources other than wages, a greater share of Social Security’s financing burden would thus be shifted to those who can better afford it.
In addition, Eisner proposes supplementing the current system by offering workers the opportunity to make additional tax-deductible Social Security contributions, which would provide them with larger benefits upon retirement. Workers would have the option of directing their supplementary accounts toward an indexed, passively managed stock fund, or Treasury securities paying a somewhat higher rate than those held in the Social Security trust fund. The main purpose of the accounts would be to increase what are currently low levels of both national and household savings.