Why Bush Will Blow Social Security Reform…


If yesterday's press event is any indication, the president and his team have a tin ear on the issue.

In The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's account, Bush appeared with 42-year-old father of two Scott Ballard as one of his main props. Not only is Ballard atypical since he owns his own business (an ambulance service), he's the son of the legendary GOP leader of the state legislature in Washington state.

Jesus, come on already! I am not a raving fan of Social Security "privatization" for a number of reasons. Among them: I don't like the idea of forced savings, period; to the extent that SS taxes go into the general fund and subsidize guaranteed state pensions/minimum incomes, they should be named as such; the amount of money under any plan that will be given back to the payer is minimal (likely 1 or 2 percent in my estimation) and possibly not worth the hassles; there's the possibility of socializing equities markets; etc.

The one powerful selling point to me about private accounts is that they might keep some money within families, to be passed down to kids or grandkids as an inheritance. I know from personal experience (or, rather, lack of personal experience) that an inheritance of even $5,000, $10,000, or $15,000 at the right time in a young person's life can make a huge difference in all sorts of ways, from clearing out debt to providing a car (and hence employment opportunities) to a down payment on a house, and more.

It seems to me the inheritance angle is the best way to sell any reform–and it should be, because that is the one that can actually change and improve people's lives, which is really the point of the reform effort. Nobody cares that the system is going "broke"–there are always ways to "fix" that (and we will, through pushing back benefits most likely). The whole government, despite any recent surpluses, is impervious to accounting rigor and standards. Nobody seems interested in attacking the morality of a mandatory savings system, either.

But what I think most people can get around is that a system that allows people, especially lower-middle- and lower-class people to conserve some capital over time is a good thing, regardless of any other ideological/political affiliation.

That means going easy on the well-connected, well-heeled sons of politicians in public presentations (I know Ballard wasn't the only human prop on the stage that day and that the PI highlighted him because he's from the paper's home state). It doesn't mean trotting out sad sacks like drunks at a revival show, but it does mean foregrounding that the people most likely to benefit from Bush's reform would be people unlike him; they'd be people whose retirements, like their finances, are always in doubt.

If Bush does that, he might persuade some of the 55 percent of Americans who think it "unwise" to allow people to invest some of their SS in stocks (according to the PI) over to his side.

Oh, and it would help to offer some specifics.

Whole PI story here.