Tuesday, March 01, 2005

David Bradford on Social Security reform

On this day when I am trying to serve David Bradford's memory via the WSJ piece that I mentioned in my previous post, I thought it might make sense to give his views on Social Security reform, which I know pretty well because we frequently discussed these issues.
David's biggest concern about U.S. fiscal policy, although it wasn't the main focus of his writing, was the fiscal gap. He was beginning to worry about the nightmare scenario of a capital markets meltdown with hyper-inflation and the like, but by far his main concern (a bigger issue to him than to me) was future generations, whom he felt we were treating unfairly. For this reason, he thought it vitally important to slow down entitlements growth and increase national saving.
Although he called himself a Republican (I told him he was a Rockefeller Republican), David actually liked the Social Security system the way it is, apart from the generational transfer, lack of pre-funding, and likely adverse effect on national saving. That sounds like a lot of objections, but what I mean to emphasize is that he liked the basic structure of offering people a mandatory fixed real life annuity, which he thought all sane people would want in their portfolios. Thus, he didn't think much of the privatization (oops, sorry, surely I meant to say "personal accounts") idea of replacing this system with another set of debt-financed risky investments that people can make on their own anyway.
Although he refused to accept quite so negative a view of the Bush Administration as that which I generally urged on him, feeling that it was still politics as usual and that the Democrats would comparably have blown up the fiscal gap, he did consider the Administration's current push on Social Security a complete waste of time at best, and possibly another disaster in the making like Medicare prescription drugs. He would have liked it, however, if all the rhetoric about solving problems now and providing for the future had actually been linked to a policy proposal that pointed in that direction.
One last point about David and the Administration's fiscal policy is that he didn't think they actually passed tax cuts in 2001 through 2003. To him these were simply tax shifts, to be offset later, given the fiscal gap, either by tax increases or by effectively retroactive reductions in transfers that might look different from tax increases in form but would be similar in substance.

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