Briefing Paper No. 68

The Failed Critique of Personal Accounts

By Peter J. Ferrara
October 8, 2001

Executive Summary

Even though President Bush’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security has yet to produce a specific proposal to establish a personal account option for Social Security, opponents of the idea have already put forward a barrage of objections and criticisms. Those criticisms generally reflect fundamental misconceptions of and confusion about Social Security’s current problems. Social Security is facing a financial crisis as early as 2016. The Social Security Trust Fund will not delay the onset of Social Security’s problems.

The critics are equally mistaken about individual accounts. Individual accounts do not involve simply switching investments from bonds to stocks. There would be no reduction in survivors’ or disability benefits. Although the mix of benefits would change, workers would have higher, not lower, overall benefits under individual accounts. Finally, benefits under the current system are not guaranteed, but workers would have a property right to the funds in their individual accounts.

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Peter Ferrara is director of research with For Our Grandchildren. He is the coauthor, with Michael Tanner, of A New Deal for Social Security (1998).