In arguing against repeal of the Social Security earnings test {editorial, Dec. 2}, The Post relies on a tenuous distinction between Social Security as a savings program and Social Security as an insurance program. Since this distinction is central to The Post's opposition, a further examination of the insurance concept advanced by The Post is in order.

If Social Security is an insurance against "income loss on retirement," then it is a most peculiar form of insurance, one characterized by truly bizarre underwriting practices. It has an inverse relationship between the contributions exacted and the rate of return earned on those contributions, postretirement benefit liberalization above and beyond that contained in the original insurance "contract," an amalgamation of individual contributions into a joint payment that effectively ignores one spouse's contributions and other quirks too numerous to highlight.

Social Security, and the desirability of changing the program, can be discussed in many ways. To do so in the framework of insurance, however, only perpetuates the public-perception problem that has plagued the program for 50 years. If The Post wants to argue honestly against repeal of the earnings test, then it must abandon the bureaucratic lexicon.

The program is an inter- and intragenerational transfer of income from working individuals to nonworking individuals. As such, it has more in common with other means-tested federal programs than it has with the private insurance market. The argument then becomes one of targeting what is in essence a public assistance program. Embracing Social Security as a public assistance program would restore a measure of honesty to the debate.

CARLOS BONILLA Washington