Tell That to Your Children; Try Denying Social Security Choice to a Coffee Drinker Who Orders a Venti Decaf Nonfat Extra-Hot No Foam with Whip Three-Pump Vanilla Latte

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, January 17, 2005 | Go to article overview

Tell That to Your Children; Try Denying Social Security Choice to a Coffee Drinker Who Orders a Venti Decaf Nonfat Extra-Hot No Foam with Whip Three-Pump Vanilla Latte


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George Will

If you are 62 (old enough to begin drawing Social Security benefits) or even if you are a spring chicken of 50 (old enough to be a member of the second largest secular organization in the nation, AARP, second to the American Automobile Association), try to remember the way it was when you were, say, 15 and you wanted to listen to the popular music of the day. You would fidget around the radio dial, flitting from one to another of the--if you were fortunate--three or four stations that played the kind of music you fancied. And you could just hope that the disc jockeys would choose to play a few of the songs you especially wanted to hear.

Now, try to explain that bit of ancient history to your children. Before you can bend their ears, you will have to remove the earphones that connect them to their iPods, in which they can store as many as 10,000 songs of their choosing, which they can hear whenever they choose. Then try to explain to them why they should not be allowed to choose to put a portion of their Social Security taxes in tax-personal retirement accounts. Good luck.

The argument about Social Security reform has highly technical facets, but it also has this easily comprehended dimension: The age cohort that is least receptive to reform that enlarges individual choice is the elderly--a cohort composed of people who, all their lives, when they wanted coffee they ordered a cup of... coffee. The cohort most receptive to reform, those ages 18 to 29, is composed of people who, when they want coffee, take a deep breath and order something like this: a venti decaf nonfat extra-hot no foam with whip [whipped cream] three-pump vanilla [three shots of vanilla syrup] latte.

Long ago--two years now seems that way--some Democrats were at least tepidly receptive to Social Security reform along the lines President Bush favors. At a Dec. 3, 2002, conference of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, Bill Clinton said:

"If you don't like privatizing Social Security, and I don't like it very much, but you want to do something to try to increase the rate of return [on Social Security assets], what are your options? Well, one thing you could do is to give people 1 or 2 percent of the payroll tax, with the same options the federal employees have with their retirement accounts, where you have three mutual funds that almost always perform as well or better than the market"--which means much better than the return on Social Security revenues that buy government bonds as I.

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