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From the Social Security archives

It's a cliche to notice how amazing the things are that one can find on the web. For reasons not worth getting into, I was trying to find some basic background on the recent history of Social Security reform, especially in the 1980s. The Social Security Administration website has an astonishing history section, complete with fully transcribed oral history interviews with dozens of people involved with shaping the programs. Amazing stuff. The interview with former commissioner Robert M. Ball, who served under three presidents, is in seven parts totaling 280 pages, easily searchable.

Ball is one of the "two Bobs" who span virtually the entire history of Social Security. The other was Robert J. Myers, who was chief actuary and deputy commissioner, but perhaps most significantly was staff director of the Greenspan commission, the bipartisan commission that put Social Security on a sounder footing in 1983. Of the two Bobs, Ball was more of a Democrat, Myers more aligned with and appointed by Republicans.

Here are a couple of interesting quotes from the oral history interview with Myers:

Of Social Security private account proposals circulating at the time of the interview, 1996:

Myers: From what I know about the proposals, I'd start off saying that to me the translation of the word "privatization" is "destroyed." If it won't do it immediately, it will do it inevitably. So therefore I'm opposed, basically.

On the role of Social Security in retirement:

I'm all in favor of private sector investments. Middle income people, even some lower income people, and certainly higher income people, should be building on top of Social Security. Social Security never was intended to do the whole job, it shouldn't and it would be bad if it did. Again, that's the reason I quit in 1970, what I called the expansionists were out to expand the program. They did expand it some in the early '70s, but their intentions were to expand it much more, so that it would take care of all the economic needs of 90 percent of the population, and I didn't think that would be good for the character of the country. People should do something for themselves on top of this basic floor. By the same token, I don't think this basic floor should be destroyed by people opting out or privatizing out of it. Leave it alone, fix the system up, encourage private savings any way you want to. I'd even go for a compulsory IRA system where everybody had to contribute 2 or 3 or 5 percent of pay and put it into mutual funds or whatever, but leave Social Security alone as the base

That's my kind of conservative.

It really is to the credit of Social Security that they have invested so much attention into preserving their own history and making it publicly available. It's as useful as the numbers.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 2, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

For more background on the Social Security debate, check out the Perrspectives Social Security Document Library.

It includes the Republicans' cynical game plan, the Trustees' 2004 Report, the 2001 report of the Presidential Commission, CEPR's simple fact sheet, and resources from AARP, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Campaign for America's Future and ThereIsNoCrisis.com. Recent articles on studies and articles on the pension and retirement system reforms in Argentina, Chile and the UK are also included.

Posted by: Jon | Feb 2, 2005 6:12:45 PM

Following Jon's lead, it seems to be generally accepted that the first appearance of the "Social Security will be gone by the time you grow up" threat occurred in 1983, in a 15-page PDF from the Cato Institute. The title of the paper is "Achieving a Leninist Strategy." I can't decide whether that was intentional irony or what.

(Janet Hooks of the LAT dug this up and reported on it here).

Posted by: Linkmeister | Feb 3, 2005 2:48:01 AM

Mark,
Now that you've pointed this out, isn't it pretty much a given that the Bushies will make this stuff disappear post-haste? Just like presidential papers, BLS mass layoff reports, 10-year federal budget projections, and the rest, this bit of honest commentary and fidelity to history is now doomed to a black hole. There's just a slight time lag while (the rest of) SSA realizes that their job is to push the President's agenda, not to make information available to the public in a non-ideological fashion.

Posted by: The Navigator | Feb 3, 2005 11:46:31 AM

While we are at it, the premier institution for serious debate, research and analysis in the field is the National Association for Social Insurance. Robert Ball was the founding chair. Robert Myers is currently on the Board. See: http://www.nasi.org/

Posted by: Michael | Feb 4, 2005 1:57:37 PM

Americans' Future In One Plan
I know that most of you are busy to read my book. As I explained previously that Taman Health Plan (www.trafford.com) takes care of all the health care, Medicare, Medicaid and social security. It will threw away all bureaucracies out of window. Let me explain shortly how it works:
1- there will be no more health care insurance companies, no Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. My plan will take care of all.
2- Basically will be only one Big Health care organization (Taman Health Plan or THP).
3- The center of the plan will be in Washington while the health departments in every state will be the branches.
4- One organized body will be taking care of the Health Care and long term care of all Americans replacing 1500 insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
5- This will allow us to provide a uniform service to all Americans every where in both inpatients, outpatients and long term care.
6- When you go to any Duncan Donuts branch your expectation is to have a fresh coffee and a donut with no long wait. We will try to provide a similar predictable service everywhere as Duncan Donuts. With having only one body will be able to do that.
7- The Capital of the plan will be the funds of Medicare and Social Security (before the bankruptcy of both systems). The maintenance will be a yearly tax from each of us (will replace our yearly social security and Medicare holding taxes). A percent of each of us go to his account cards and a percent go to THP itself. The money of the plan will be invested by the investing sector of the plan very likely in Wall Street.
8- We will have 5 ATM cards with a corresponding accounts. Card A (children), Card B (working group 18-65years old), Card C (Medicare card >65 years old), Card D (Medicaid card), Card E ( expensive medicines or investigations).We will have the health cards devoted to health care and long term care. Thus we will have: health cards, banks with accounts to each card and credit card machines in outpatients care and hotelling part of hospitals and nursing homes.
9- Cards will pay for the outpatient medical care including doctors, emergency room visits, investigations, medical supplies, pharmacies and the hotelling part of hospitals and nursing homes. While the medical part of hospitals and nursing homes will be budget by the plan itself.
10- In the first year of issuing cards: Card B and C (most of people) will have a bonus it could be a percent of their Medicare and social security withholding (70 % or so). We will try to be fair to every one but every one has to now that most of us already lost a lot of money with the HMO's. For next year new comers to card B at age of 18 when first issued will have a bonus of 50,000 dollars. It will change every year by a percent a according to inflation.
11- every one of us will get a statement every one or two months of his card account. Card B account will phase in card C at the age of 65. If card C account is vanished Card D will be issued (hoteling part will be less luxurious). Only few of Card B will have card D if there account vanish most likely those with severe medical problems.
12- So basically most of us will have our own account Card B then card C. Say you are 45 and you have now in your account $ 200,000 you can take one or more years out of work, you Can retire early if you like and with your card you will control all the medical services and its prices.
13- With this card system we will end all bureaucracies of health care, Medicare and Medicaid. No one will stand between you and any medical or long term service (only your card). Shop around with you card, have early health care security and responsibility and invest in your health.
14- We will not need Social Security since after age of 65 we will be able to use our cards to stay in any nursing home each according to his account in card C or card D. So when you invest well in your health you will be able to enjoy a nicer nursing home when you get old (actually it will be also a kind of tourism).
15- The money in cards do not get inherited when we pass away but recycle in the plan to support the next generations.
16- The plan will have very positive effects not only in simplifying our care, save a lot of waste in health care, give early health care security and responsibility to Americans it will also have a positive effect on the economy, saving billions of dollars to Americans, creating jobs in health care and cutting outsourcing.
Very likely, you figure it out by now I could have sold the plan to one of the presidential candidates before the 2004 election for millions of dollars (they already spent 2 billion dollars). It is my gift to the American people (it will help the healing process of the two worlds America and the Muslim/Arabs).
Maged Taman.

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