Alan Reynolds

The AARP claims to represent us seniors, but more often it just lectures us relentlessly. One such sermon in the AARP Bulletin, opposing any addition of choice and ownership to Social Security, boasted that "groups like AARP that oppose (privatization) will spend millions of dollars to sway opinion." Apparently, it plans to waste thousands of words, too, and without much concern about accuracy.

 When it is not trying to sway our opinion against the White House, AARP tries equally hard to sell us various financial services, in exchange for big kickbacks. The latest AARP Magazine contains a record number of annoying insert ads that fall on the floor when you pick it up. They advertise, among other things, AARP Auto Insurance from The Hartford, AARP Life Insurance from New York Life, AARP health insurance from United Health Care and mediocre mutual funds from Scudder. If Eliot Spitzer is still obsessing about "conflict of interest," perhaps he should take a look.

 AARP Magazine features "Myths and Truths About Social Security" by "the magazine's Social Security expert" Karen Westerberg Reyes. I was not surprised to find their expert audaciously redefining truths as myths and myths as truths.

 Even the undeniable truth that "private accounts will give individuals more control" is magically redefined as a myth. Why? Because "people already have control over their money when they invest in private pensions, IRAs and 401(k) plans." Well, some people have employer-provided pensions, but most do not. Many could invest in an IRA, but people need to save for other reasons (such as the kids' college or down payment on a home).

 It is difficult to save much after 12.4 percent of their paychecks go into a Social Security slush fund to be distributed in ways politicians find politically expedient. Unlike any personal savings, individuals have zero control over Social Security. They can't even draw it down more quickly if facing a terminal illness. And they get nothing if they die early.

 AARP takes the easily demonstrable truth that "individuals will get higher returns with private accounts" and somehow redefines it as a myth without mentioning a single fact. Since 1900, the average return on stocks was 6.3 percent a year, according to the Bridgewater Group, but only 1.4 percent on U.S. bonds. Rather than mentioning such bothersome facts, the author alleged: "In the current Social Security system, the risk is near zero. ... That's because U.S. Treasury bonds don't crash when the stock market does." That statement condensed several myths into just two sentences.


Alan Reynolds

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