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Responding to a crisis



Published: Sat, January 8, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Is there a Social Security crisis or isn't there? How you answer may depend on how old you are.

If you're 30, you're convinced there's a crisis because you've been told for the last 10 years that you'll never get out of Social Security what you'll pay in. If you're 75, you're not likely to see a crisis, because by even the most conservative estimates, Social Security will not have to begin dipping into its trust fund to meet its obligations until 2018.

But beginning in 2018, and running through 2042, it will be the trust fund that will have to be redeemed to pay Social Security's obligations. In effect, that means the government general fund will have to start buying back the trillions of dollars in bonds in which today's excess Social Security taxes are being invested.

That will either create a crisis for Social Security, or it will be a crisis in balancing the budget.

A partial answer

President Bush says that the answer is to partially privatize Social Security now. But he says he won't have a dollars and cents explanation of how that can be done until February.

That explanation will be interesting to see.

It appears the president will once again tell the American people that they can have it all: secure Social Security payments for today's retirees and privatized accounts for the retirees of the future. But if some of the Social Security payments of younger workers are diverted into private accounts, how will the government make up the difference?

It will have to borrow more money -- at least $1 trillion, and perhaps twice that amount.

Adding trillions upon trillions of dollars to the national debt does nothing good. It increases the amount of money needed to pay the interest on that debt, which leaves less for government services. And it increases the amount of government paper -- much of which is held by foreign countries -- that will eventually have to be redeemed.




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