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William Raspberry

A Test of Faith on Social Security

By William Raspberry
Monday, February 7, 2005; Page A21

The old country preacher was out hunting one day when he wandered too near a steep cliff, stumbled over a stone and fell headlong over the edge.

The end seemed certain. Then he glimpsed a tree root growing out of the side of the cliff, grabbed it and -- at least temporarily -- saved his life.

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He then began to pray furiously for deliverance from his precarious position.

"Lord," he said, "Please deliver your servant in his hour of need."

Somewhat to his surprise, the response was both immediate and audible: "Do you believe?"

"Lord, thy servant truly believes."

"But do you really believe?"

"Lord, thou knowest all things, and thou knowest thy servant truly trusts and believes."

"Then let go of that root."

"Are you out of your cotton-picking mind?"

Which brings me to President Bush's proposal for privatizing Social Security. He says he believes the U.S. economy will do well enough that it will be financially advantageous for workers to invest a part of their erstwhile Social Security contributions in the stock market. And since the Social Security system is facing an actuarial crisis. . . .

Bush offered some more details in his State of the Union message last week, including several attractive features. But the heart of the proposal is his unquestioning faith in the market.

Let me confess: I have faith in it, too. That's why my retirement savings aren't sitting around in certificates of deposit or other cash instruments. I expect my little nest egg to grow. I count on it growing.

But I also count on my Social Security check to keep coming, no matter what. Indeed, the only thing that would make me entertain the president's proposal is his assertion that there is a crisis in the system.

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