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Social Security Money's Worth

Author

Listed:
  • John Geanakoplos
  • Olivia S. Mitchell
  • Stephen P. Zeldes

Abstract

This paper describes how three money's worth measures - the benefit-to-tax ratio, the internal rate of return, and the net present value -are calculated and used in analyses of social security reforms, including systems with privately managed individual accounts invested in equities. Declining returns from the U.S. social security system prove to be the inevitable result of having instituted an unfunded (pay-as-you-go) retirement system that delivered $7.9 trillion of net transfers (in 1997 present value dollars) to people born before 1917, and will deliver another $1.8 trillion to people born between 1918 and 1937. But young and future workers cannot necessarily do better by investing their payroll taxes in capital markets. If the old system were closed down, massive unfunded liabilities of $9-10 trillion would still have to be paid unless already accrued benefits were cut. Alternative methods of calculating these accrued benefits yield somewhat different numbers: the straight line calculation is $800 billion less than the constant benefit calculation we propose as the benchmark. Using this benchmark in a world with no uncertainty, we show that privatization without prefunding would not increase returns at all, net of the new taxes needed to pay for unfunded liabilities. These new taxes would amount to 3.6 percent of payroll, or about 29 percent of social security contributions. Prefunding, implemented by reducing accrued benefits or by raising taxes, would eventually increase money's worth for later generations, but at the cost of lower money's worth for today's workers and/or retirees.
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Suggested Citation

  • John Geanakoplos & Olivia S. Mitchell & Stephen P. Zeldes, "undated". "Social Security Money's Worth," Pension Research Council Working Papers 97-20, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:pennpr:97-20
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • E42 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Monetary Sytsems; Standards; Regimes; Government and the Monetary System
    • E52 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Monetary Policy

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