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The New Social Security Commission Personal Accounts: Where Is the Investment Principal?

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  • Alan L. Gustman
  • Thomas L. Steinmeier

Abstract

The President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security suggests three plans for reforming Social Security. These plans divert various amounts of the payroll tax to a personal account if the worker chooses to participate in the account. In return, Social Security benefits are offset using accounts with real returns ranging from 2% to 3.5%. In addition, the second and third plans proposed by the Commission include features that are designed to balance the finances of the system by reducing the rate of growth of benefits relative to the levels prescribed under current law, to make the system more redistributive, and to make other changes. The measures to increase redistribution and resolve the solvency of the system are relatively separate from the personal accounts. When 'personal accounts' are mentioned, most people think of accounts that are in some sense separate and shielded from the uncertainties of the Social Security system. That is not the case for the personal accounts proposed by the Commission. Because the participating individual is not entitled to the principal in the account, participating in the account does not shield the individual from the political risks of being in the Social Security system. The offset to the plan essentially taxes away the principal in the account, but leaves intact the full Social Security benefit, so that any change in retirement income due to the account reflects the difference in interest earned on the portfolio beyond a stated real rate of interest offset. Thus our analysis describes the account as a financial instrument equivalent to a bet that the real return will exceed the level of offset specified in the plan, ranging from 2 percent to 3.5 percent real. As a result, the reduction in political risk fostered by the Commission's proposals comes mainly from the improvement in the financial status of the system fostered by other provisions of the recommended plans. Measures to improve the benefits of low income individuals, widows and widowers and to enhance the rewards to retirement all create incentive effects that are also discussed in the paper.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9045.

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Date of creation: Jul 2002
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Publication status: published as Alan L. Gustman and Thomas L. Steinmeier. “Offsetting the Principal in the New Social Security Accounts”. Tax Notes, Volume 7, No. 1, (April 4, 2005): 109-114.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9045

Note: AG LS PE
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References

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  1. Julia Lynn Coronado & Don Fullerton & Thomas Glass, 2002. "Long-Run Effects of Social Security Reform Proposals on Lifetime Progressivity," NBER Chapters, in: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform, pages 149-206 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Martin Feldstein & Andrew Samwick, 1998. "The Transition Path in Privatizing Social Security," NBER Chapters, in: Privatizing Social Security, pages 215-264 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Martin Feldstein & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2001. "Social Security," NBER Working Papers 8451, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    • Feldstein, Martin & Liebman, Jeffrey B., 2002. "Social security," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 32, pages 2245-2324 Elsevier.
  4. Martin Feldstein & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2002. "The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feld02-1, octubre-d.
  5. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 1995. "Privatizing Social Security: First Round Effects of a Generic, VoluntaryPrivatized U.S. Social Security System," NBER Working Papers 5362, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. John B. Shoven, 2000. "Administrative Aspects of Investment-Based Social Security Reform," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number shov00-1, octubre-d.
  7. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Kent A. Smetters & Jan Walliser, 1998. "Opting Out of Social Security and Adverse Selection," NBER Working Papers 6430, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. John Y. Campbell & Martin Feldstein, 2001. "Risk Aspects of Investment-Based Social Security Reform," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number camp01-1, octubre-d.
  9. Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2002. "Redistribution in the Current U.S. Social Security System," NBER Chapters, in: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform, pages 11-48 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Richard Disney & Robert Palacios & Edward Whitehouse, 1999. "Individual choice of pension arrangement as a pension reform strategy," IFS Working Papers W99/18, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
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Cited by:
  1. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 2003. "Retirement Effects of Proposals by the President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security," Working Papers wp038, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  2. Pfau, Wade Donald, 2007. "Reforming Social Security: Issues and Challenges for Personal Retirement Accounts," MPRA Paper 19034, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Hugo Benítez-Silva & Debra Sabatini Dwyer & Warren Sanderson, 2006. "A Dynamic Model of Retirement and Social Security Reform Expectations: A Solution to the New Early Retirement Puzzle," Working Papers wp134, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  4. Brian S. Armour & M. Melinda Pitts, 2007. "Smoking: taxing health and Social Security," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, issue Q 3, pages 27-41.
  5. Engelhardt, Gary V. & Kumar, Anil, 2005. "Social security personal-account participation with government matching," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 4(02), pages 155-179, July.

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