One can only wish that Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's plan for closing Social Security's projected long-term deficit was as painless and fair as he suggested [letters, Nov. 30].
The Moynihan-Kerrey plan first deepens the financial problem by cutting Social Security revenues. Then the plan cuts benefits, eventually by one-third or more. The reduced cost-of-living adjustments would continue indefinitely, whether or not the consumer price index was purged of all biases. The loss of full inflation adjustments means that not only retirees but also the disabled, who might remain on the rolls for decades, would suffer steadily declining purchasing power. The plan also would boost income taxes, because the reductions in cost-of-living adjustments would erode the annual adjustments in income-tax brackets and the standard deduction, which together prevent inflation from raising tax rates.
Voluntary individual accounts would be poor substitutes for lost Social Security benefits. Unlike Social Security, which ensures income, pensions based on individual accounts would be subject to the risk of asset price fluctuations. The costs of keeping track of which workers contributed how much to which accounts in which years under the Moynihan-Kerrey proposal would eat up 20 percent to 40 percent of each worker's potential benefits.
Closing Social Security's projected long-term deficit will require some combination of benefit reductions or higher taxes, but the senator's plan needlessly undercuts both the "social" and the "security" in Social Security.
HENRY J. AARON
The writer is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan has made major contributions to our Social Security system, but his current proposal would sink any hope young workers have of claiming the benefits they have been promised.
By cutting Social Security's source of funding for several decades by 17 percent, the senator's plan would make it impossible to pay promised benefits. As a result, today's young workers would get one-third to one-half of what they are due, lower cost-of-living adjustments and a higher retirement age. While workers might try to invest in stocks to offset the cuts, the law of averages tells us that some would succeed while others failed.
Social Security benefits can be paid in full for present and future generations by taking less risky steps. As the president has proposed, part of the budget surplus could be used to pay down debt held by the public, and the interest savings could be credited to Social Security. We also could make the payroll tax fair, so that workers who earn as much as Sen. Moynihan pay Social Security tax on all their income, just like the rest of us. These two steps alone can guarantee full and decent benefits past the year 2065.
The writer is director of the nonprofit 2030 Center.