Opportunity, security, volatility


Daniel Gross, one of my favorite columnists around, had a great New York Times piece over the weekend explaining why voters are so resistant to changes in Social Security. In the end, Americans suffer enough income volatility as it is:

The factors that functioned as internal shock absorbers for families have weakened. And so, too, have external buffers. Over the last three decades, the percentage of workers covered by defined-benefit pension plans and employer-provided health insurance – guarantees that provide ballast for fluctuating incomes – has declined. Add this to the trend of rising volatility – especially for people in the lower and middle income levels – and it’s easy to understand the reluctance to transform a government program that guarantees seniors an income.

The whole piece deserves a look. It’s also worth noting, as Mark Schmitt explained nicely last week, that income security doesn’t need to be incompatible with opportunity. Social Security doesn’t make people lazy or dependent, it doesn’t stifle growth or creativity—if anything it boosts opportunity by allowing many people to move from job to job without fear of losing their pensions. There are ways to create an opportunity society without watching the majority of Americans fall prey to the vicious income swings and devastating shocks that Gross so clearly describes.

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