Los Angeles Times columnist Michael A. Hiltzik makes no bones about his reaction to President Bush's plan to reform Social Security. To him, the idea of letting younger workers set aside a portion of their payroll taxes to create a personal savings account amounts to, in the words of his new book's title, The Plot Against Social Security: How the Bush Plan Is Endangering Our Financial Future (HarperCollins, $24.95). President Bush recently said that the system would go "into the red" in 2017, adding that it was "not right to sit here in Washington, D.C., knowing the system is going bankrupt for younger Americans and not do anything about it." Hiltzik, however, attacks the Bush plan from many angles, crunching the numbers on his own to argue that the system that FDR built is not approaching a state of fiscal crisis. Moreover, he warns, privatization of Social Security would accentuate a broad trend toward reduced protections for American workers, joining the "vanished . . . promise of affordable health care and a secure corporate pension." But the author saves perhaps his most caustic remarks for what he calls "the ownership scam." Hiltzik flatly does not buy the Bush administration's contention that private accounts would be an improvement on the current system. Economist Martin Feldstein, Hiltzik notes, discounted the possibility that capital markets might confound experts' prediction of a 7 or 8 percent average annual return for Social Security dropouts by citing one supposed risk of sticking with the status quo: "that Congress might decide to cut benefits for hundreds of millions of Americans at some point in the future." "For some reason," Hiltzik writes, Feldstein "counted the latter hazard as the more perilous, notwithstanding the fact that since the founding of Social Security in 1935, Congress had never cut benefits for retirees. The stock market, by contrast, had suffered annual declines of more than 10 percent more than a dozen times since 1950 alone."

-- Dennis Drabelle