The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, January 21, 2005

Los Angeles Times: Kinsley's Proof That Social Security Privatization Won't Work

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/sunday/la-oe-kinsley19-proof,0,7948674.story
Kinsley's Proof That Social Security Privatization Won't Work
By Michael Kinsley



MY CONTENTION: Social Security privatization is not just unlikely to succeed, for various reasons that are subject to discussion. It is mathematically certain to fail. Discussion is pointless.

The usual case against privatization is that (1) millions of inexperienced investors may end up worse off, and (2) stocks don't necessarily do better than bonds over the long run, as proponents assume. But privatization won't work for a better reason: It can't possibly work, even in theory.

The logic is not very complicated:

1. To "work," privatization must generate more money for retirees than current arrangements. This bonus is supposed to be extra money in retirees' pockets and/or it is supposed to make up for a reduction in promised benefits, thus helping to close the looming revenue gap.

2. Where does this bonus come from? There are only two possibilities-- from greater economic growth or from other people.

3. Greater economic growth requires either more capital to invest or smarter investment of the same amount of capital. Privatization will not lead to either of these.

a) If nothing else in the federal budget changes, every dollar deflected from the federal treasury into private Social Security accounts must be replaced by a dollar that the government raises in private markets. So the total pool of capital available for private investment remains the same.

b) The only change in decision-making about capital investment is that the decisions about some fraction of the capital stock will be made by people with little or no financial experience. Maybe this will not be the disaster that some critics predict, but there is no reason to think that it will actually increase the overall return on capital.

4. If the economy doesn't produce more than it otherwise would, the Social Security privatization bonus must come from other investors, in the form of a lower return.

a) This is in fact the implicit assumption behind the notion of putting Social Security money into stocks, instead of government bonds, because stocks have a better long-term return. The bonus will come from those saps who sell the stocks and buy the bonds.

b) In other words, privatization means betting the nation's most important social program on a theory that cannot be true unless many people are convinced that it's false.

c) Even if the theory were true, initially, privatization would make it false. The money newly available for private investment would bid up the price of (and thus lower the return on) stocks, while the government would need to raise the interest on bonds in order to attract replacement money.


MY CONTENTION: Social Security privatization is not just unlikely to succeed, for various reasons that are subject to discussion. It is mathematically certain to fail. Discussion is pointless.

The usual case against privatization is that (1) millions of inexperienced investors may end up worse off, and (2) stocks don't necessarily do better than bonds over the long run, as proponents assume. But privatization won't work for a better reason: It can't possibly work, even in theory.

The logic is not very complicated:

1. To 'work,' privatization must generate more money for retirees than current arrangements. This bonus is supposed to be extra money in retirees' pockets and/or it is supposed to make up for a reduction in promised benefits, thus helping to close the looming revenue gap.

2. Where does this bonus come from? There are only two possibilities-- from greater economic growth or from other people.

3. Greater economic growth requires either more capital to invest or smarter investment of the same amount of capital. Privatization will not lead to either of these.

a) If nothing else in the federal budget changes, every dollar deflected from the federal treasury into private Social Security accounts must be replaced by a dollar that the government raises in private markets. So the total pool of capital available for private investment remains the same.

b) The only change in decision-making about capital investment is that the decisions about some fraction of the capital stock will be made by people with little or no financial experience. Maybe this will not be the disaster that some critics predict, but there is no reason to think that it will actually i"

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