Arguments against Social Security personal retirement accounts (PRAs) rest on a great deal of incorrect and misleading information. These myths have spread and taken on a life of their own, despite the absence of any factual foundation.
These myths appear valid because they either sound logical or contain phrases that mean one thing in the context of Social Security but something quite different outside of it. Many have spread because workers lack sufficient information both about the way Social Security actually operates and the proposal to use PRAs to reform the system. Other myths have been purposefully initiated to promote a political agenda rather than to advance debate in pursuit of workable reform.
Looking at the actual facts behind the common misconceptions about Social Security and PRAs shows that these myths are either incorrect or irrelevant to the debate about Social Security's future and ensuring retirement security for future generations.
America's workers deserve a more informative, less partisan debate about Social Security reform. Although the current system may be able to pay for all the benefits that it has promised today's older workers (and those who have already retired), it cannot do so for younger workers.
There are only three ways to avoid the impending Social Security crisis: (1) raise taxes and borrow massive amounts of money, or make massive cuts in other federal programs; (2) reduce benefits promised to younger workers; or (3) make payroll taxes work harder and bring greater returns by allowing workers to invest all (or a part of) the tax through PRAs. While the first two options would make Social Security returns even lower than they are today, PRAs would not only address the impending insolvency of the system, but also improve retirement incomes and help to close the gap between what the current system has promised and what it will be able to pay. It would also allow workers of all income levels to build a nest egg for the future. Simply put, PRAs can give workers a much more secure retirement income than can the current Social Security system.
The debate regarding Social Security reform is not an academic exercise, nor should it be used as a political ploy. The outcome of this debate will determine whether or not younger workers and their children will be able to receive retirement benefits that are comparable to those enjoyed by their parents.
The various myths and scare tactics that have emerged in the course of this debate do not alter the unpleasant realities that will confront American workers if nothing is done. Every day that Congress and the President delay taking action makes it more likely that our children and grandchildren will face the cost of crippling deficits. It is time to put aside the myths that have been stumbling blocks in a quest for authentic, effective, and critically needed Social Security reform
David C. John is Research Fellow in Social Security and Financial Institutions in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.