There have been many good, if ultimately unconvincing, arguments against allowing younger workers to privately invest a portion of their Social Security taxes through personal accounts. There have been even more silly ones. One of the silliest is the one regurgitated Monday by ThinkProgress, that this week’s stock market decline proves that “If Social Security Had Been In Private Accounts The Stock Market Drop Could Have Been A Disaster.”
Few personal account plans would require a retiree to cash out their entire account on the day that the market crashed. But what if they did? It is important to understand that someone retiring Monday would have begun paying into their account 40 years ago when the Dow was at 835.34. After yesterday’s decline, it opened at 15,676 today. Over those 40 years, the worker would have made roughly 1,040 contributions to their account. Only 48 of them would have been at a time when the market was higher than today’s open.
Yep, even after Monday’s crash, the worker would have made a tidy profit. In fact, his return would have been substantially higher than what he could expect to receive from Social Security.
The last that defenders of the status quo made this argument was 2009, during the market crash that led into the Great Recession. At that time the market hit a low of 6,547. Obviously, if workers had been allowed to start investing then, they would have done pretty well. But more importantly, retirees in 2009 would have done well too, once again better than Social Security.
Cato published this comprehensive study of that downturn and its impact on personal accounts.
Social Security is running nearly $26 trillion in future unfunded liabilities. It cannot pay promised future benefits to young workers without substantial tax hikes. We should begin a discussion of how to reform this troubled program. A start to such a discussion would be to retire the canard about market crashes and personal accounts.
Cross-posted at TannerOnPolicy