Thinking About Social Security
Alvin L. Schorr
As we address the current policy/political situation, we face both immediate and long-term issues. Many people are in trouble, and steps that are being taken on the national scene will both deepen and spread the trouble. We find ourselves urgently seeking immediate solutions, compromises, inventions that may ease the problem. We have to do this or, anyway, somebody has to do this; people eat and are sheltered in the short term.
At the same time, the structure of our welfare state--what I call here the social compact--is shifting under our feet. Nor is it to be reinstated as it was. The way people perceive the long-term goals in this area is important both for the success of the long-term struggle and because it may affect the acceptability of short-term solutions that we devise.
In this brief chapter, I address long-term goals, in part to make it clear that, with or without the conservative tide that has come upon us, the social compact was going to have to change. Indeed, although the move to deconstruct the welfare state is usually phrased in ideological or money-saving terms (deficit reduction, tax cutting), underlying social and economic changes demand a revised social compact.
As used here, the social compact is the set of assumptions about what citizens and the government owe to each other. This encompasses a vast