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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Social Security Goes Bust in 2034. Here’s How Free Markets Can Save It.

Chile's privatized social security plan has been wildly successful, and America could learn a lot from it.

The current Congressional Budget Office estimates state that the Social Security Trust Fund will become insolvent by 2034. This means that seniors collecting Social Security will not be able to receive 100 percent of their benefits starting in that year.

This could be a problem for the nearly 43 percent of single American seniors who rely on Social Security for 90 percent of their income. If Social Security fails these seniors, our nation could be heading for big trouble, especially since 10,000 Americans retire every day.

While some experts contend that “Social Security isn’t going broke,” most acknowledge that the insolvency crisis will almost certainly lead to sharply reduced benefits.

Liberal and conservative estimates go back and forth about the year, but without reform, social security will eventually become insolvent; in other words, the program won’t be able to pay out all of its promised benefits. With that information, there have been several suggestions as to how to reform social security. Unfortunately, all of them come up short.

Stop-Gap Measures Are Not Enough

We could simply wait for Social Security to become insolvent. In 2034, if Social Security runs out as projected, benefits would not disappear. They simply would be cut by 25 percent.

The good news: We can fix the program.

This is not an attractive solution because of how many Americans rely on the program. It’s bad enough that working Americans pay into this mammoth government program, but it’s another thing if people continue to pay into it and continue to get less and less out of it.

Picture Roberta Gordon in California. A 76-year-old woman who didn’t think she would live this long. In her hometown, she works part-time at the local grocery store, earning $50 a day just to make ends meet. Since her husband died, she’s been taking on credit card debt to cover the gap. Roberta has a job, and yet still relies on Social Security checks as her lifeline. Waiting for insolvency is a recipe for disaster for Americans like Roberta.

The good news: We can fix the program.

When Social Security was first created, the life expectancy for Americans was 61. Today, seniors live, on average, almost 80 years which means more of them are able to collect benefits over longer periods of time. So many people ask: Why not just raise the age to collect social security?

Social Security is failing, and government intervention or fixes will only delay the problem.

The problem with this solution is that it would not end the insolvency crisis; it would merely postpone it. Besides, good luck getting the senior vote if your platform is to take away their social security benefits.

This is the problem with government handouts: once given, they are almost impossible to take away.

The bottom line is this: Social Security is failing, and government intervention or fixes will only delay the problem or provide half-solutions. Instead, we should look for a more free market solution.

A Free-Market Overhaul

Here’s how the system could work. Instead of the government taking a portion of your paycheck, it would mandate that you invest it privately in a business that manages pension funds. Then, it would be up to you to decide where your savings goes and what is done with it.

In Chile, a privatized social security system helped the country go from one of the poorest South American countries to the richest.

A system like this could be phased in, having everyone under a certain age pay into a private pension fund and those who are of a certain age could live off of the dying Social Security program.

In Chile, a privatized social security system helped the country go from one of the poorest South American countries to the richest. Rather than giving money to the government, workers have the freedom to choose among many private sector pension funds. This way, there is less bureaucratic waste and no chance that the government will spend your money without telling you.

Some argue the payouts of private pension funds are lower than Chile’s old public system. However, this research fails to consider how often people pay in. When calculating the figure for private payouts, all workers are considered, whether they have paid in for one day, or 30 years. When public pension payments are calculated, formulas have excluded employees who have paid in for less than 10 years. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

Economist and FEE contributor Daniel Mitchell has written extensively on Chile’s economic success. He cites personal retirement accounts as a major reason Chile is the richest country in Latin America today.

Social Security is unsustainable, and there is no serious plan to fix it.

Chile is the world champion for personal retirement accounts. It shifted from a failed pay-as-you-go tax-and-transfer to a funded system of personal accounts. Workers were given the opportunity to stay in the old system, but more than 95 percent realized it was better to have private savings rather than empty promises from politicians.

Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard noted that other Latin American countries are taking notice of Chile’s free-market prosperity.

“The rags-to-riches Chile story lives on as a model of what a poor country can achieve if it spurns socialism and adopts free markets and democracy,” Barnes wrote. “Peru is now copying Chile. More may follow.”

Social Security is unsustainable, and there is no serious plan to fix it. Possible solutions only mitigate the problem or delay it. The long-term solution is a free-market solution.

As with many government programs, before debating whether we should fix the problem by doing this or that, we should ask ourselves one question: Could the free market do this more efficiently than the government?

The answer is almost always yes.

  • Zach Lang studies Political Science and Economics at St. Lawrence University. He is also a Media Ambassador for Young Americans for Liberty.