Policymaking for Social Security

Policymaking for Social Security

Policymaking for Social Security

Policymaking for Social Security

Synopsis

Comprehensively analyzes the American social security program, considering its history, politics, policies, and troubled future and advocating a realistic and less reverent approach to its modification.

Excerpt

Social security, the foreword to an earlier Brookings book says, "is firmly established as a permanent American institution. . . . Administered with efficiency and integrity, the system has won widespread acceptance." This is as true today as it was when written eleven years ago in Social Security: Perspectives for Reform, by Joseph A. Pechman, Henry J. Aaron, and Michael K. Taussig. Nonetheless, it sounds faintly archaic. The social security system is even better established than in 1968, with more taxpayers, more beneficiaries, much bigger benefits, and a bigger bite out of the gross national product. But it is also more controversial. In the mid-1970s it developed a sizable deficit: Congress was forced to enact for the first time a social security bill that was primarily a revenue raiser, and presidents (first Ford, then Carter) began to propose benefit reductions in relatively obscure and questionable parts of the program. Once blessedly free of trouble and a favorite of politicians in both parties, social security is undergoing a change of political fortunes.

This book by Martha Derthick, director of Governmental Studies at Brookings, explains how social security was successfully institutionalized in the four decades after enactment in 1935 and why it is in trouble today. The author asks why a program of such obvious importance has stirred so little conflict and discussion in the past and finds answers both in the nature of policymaking (particularly its domination by an expert few) and in the nature of the program (which promised taxpayers a fair return for their taxes and in fact gave nearly all of the earliest taxpayers very much more than that). She argues that the debate now developing is healthy and long overdue. The book is the first full-length . . .

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