Social Security Reform: Add-ons Do Not Equal Carve-outs

I partially agree with Duncan Black when he writes this:

There is no problem with the Social Security system. People who continue to argue that there is – and that the problem can be “solved” with the magic private accounts fairy – either have broken brains or are attempting to push an agenda for ideological reasons or for personal enrichment for themselves and their kind.

The partial agreement relates to his mocking the “magic private fairy accounts”, but is there a long-run shortfall? Yes – a very modest one that those who “push an agenda for ideological reasons” (e.g., George W. Bush) falsely claim is HUGE. But I have to protest the opening of Duncan’s post:

Look, people who advocate adding “personal accounts” to Social Security are just stupid people. Really, just morons. There’s no reason to do it. There’s no reason to take any part of Social Security contributions and put them in a little fund account with my name on it.

OK – there is not much to disagree with until one realizes that Duncan was linking to a very reasonable post from Brad DeLong:

Back in 1998, 1999, and 2000 there was a deal to be struck: bring the existing Social Security system back into balance with a combination of (small) tax increases and (moderate) future benefit cuts, and supercharge it with add-on private but regulated and insured personal accounts. But neither Gingrich, Hastert, Armey, Delay, or Lott were interested in such a deal – it would give another substantive public-policy victory to Bill Clinton, you see. After 2000 Bush was interested in – well, it was never clear what Bush was interested in, for different advisors said very different things, and Bush never proposed a plan. But the deal that was there to be struck in 1998, 1999, and 2000 is still there to be struck, if program design and decision-making can be moved out of the White House to locations with credibility.

If Duncan was calling Gingrich, Hastert, Armey, Delay, Lott, and Bush morons – fine as they are for the privatization that he (as do I) condemns. But Brad is not calling for carve-outs. Brad is calling for the modest changes to either future benefits or contributions that are likely to be needed for long-run solvency. And if individuals can be encouraged to save more for retirement through some add-on program, so much the better.

We on the left – like many of those commenting to Brad’s post – should be very reluctant to deal with the Gingrich, Hastert, Armey, Delay, Lott, and Bush crowd, but we should listen to sensible conservatives such as Andrew Samwick.

Update: Brad responds to Duncan – with a touch of Rodney Dangerfield style sense of humor. Sorry Brad – but there are too many candidates in Stupidest Man Alive contest so you don’t get to the next round.