More or better? Rethinking Social Security for the 21st century
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Event Summary

For both sides of the US political spectrum, the Social Security reform debate has long been predominately size-centric. New America Foundation's Michael Lind maintained this emphasis at AEI on Wednesday, drawing on the evolution of his own perspectives. In 2001, Lind's book "The Radical Center" espoused a two-tier Social Security system, favoring reduced public assistance and a means-tested safety net.

Lind explained that he now believes this approach was too optimistic and did not properly account for a less robust stock market and complicating political factors. He instead suggested an expansionary reform to a multiple-tier system with flat benefits and increased revenue sources, emphasizing that reducing the need for private retirement savings is actually the appeal of Social Security, not an unwanted byproduct.

AEI's Andrew Biggs countered Lind's proposals with the quip, "more isn’t better; better is better." He held that Social Security expansion will have perverse consequences such as punishing longer work lives and reducing savings and economic growth. Alternatively, he encouraged addressing leaks in the system at their source, which entails identifying shortcomings in how we measure the public's need for Social Security benefits. Biggs ultimately advocated focusing on cost-efficient approaches to systemic issues such as poor benefit targeting and high poverty rates by simply improving on current-state Social Security. In this approach, size does not have to come into play.
--Kelly Funderburk

Event Description

Social Security reform is back in the news, but this time it's about more than just fixing the program's finances. Both the left and the right are proposing structural changes to Social Security to better address the retirement needs of the 21st century.

Many progressives support increasing Social Security benefits to address a perceived decline in retirement income security in America. Some conservatives, likewise, have proposed structural reforms designed to better target Social Security's resources and improve incentives to work and save.

At this event, experts from the New America Foundation and AEI will assess reform proposals and discuss the best way forward.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.

Agenda

12:00 PM
Registration and Lunch

12:30 PM
Presenters:
Andrew G. Biggs, AEI
Michael Lind, New America Foundation

Moderator:
Sita Nataraj Slavov, AEI

1:15 PM
Question-and-Answer Session

1:45 PM
Closing Remarks

2:00 PM
Adjournment

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Kelly Funderburk at [email protected], 202.862.5920.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at AEI, where he studies Social Security reform, state and local government pensions, and public sector pay and benefits. Before joining AEI, Biggs was the principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA), where he oversaw SSA’s policy research efforts. In 2005, as an associate director of the White House National Economic Council, he worked on Social Security reform. In 2001, he joined the staff of the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security. He has published widely in academic publications as well as in newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. He has also testified before Congress on numerous occasions. In 2013, the Society of Actuaries appointed Biggs co-vice chair of a blue-ribbon panel focused on underfunding of public-sector pension plans.

Michael Lind is cofounder of the New America Foundation (NAF), along with Walter Mead, Sherle Schwenninger, and Ted Halstead. Lind became NAF’s first fellow in 1999. With Ted Halstead, he wrote NAF’s manifesto, “The Radical Center” (Doubleday, 2001). Lind also wrote the first book published under the NAF imprint with Basic Books, “Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics” (Basic Books, 2003). With Sherle Schwenninger, Lind cofounded the American Strategy Program, named after Lind’s book “The American Way of Strategy” (Oxford University Press, 2006), and later directed by Steve Clemons. At present he is policy director of the Economic Growth Program, which he founded along with Sherle Schwenninger. Lind has taught at Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University and has been an editor or staff writer for The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, The New Republic, and The National Interest. He is a columnist for Salon and writes frequently for The New York Times and The Financial Times. He is the author of numerous books of history, political journalism, fiction, poetry, and children’s literature. His most recent book is “Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States” (Harper, 2012).

Sita Nataraj Slavov is a resident scholar at AEI. Slavov specializes in public finance issues dealing with retirement and the economics of aging. Her recent work has focused on whether retiree health insurance encourages early retirement, the impact of widowhood on out-of-pocket medical expenses among the elderly, and the optimal time to claim Social Security. Before joining AEI, Slavov taught economics at Occidental College. She has also served as a senior economist specializing in public finance issues on the White House's Council of Economic Advisers.

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