Bruce Bartlett

It is clear that President Bush's Social Security plan is not getting traction politically -- even many Republicans on Capitol Hill think it is on life support. One reason is that he has failed to make some arguments for reform that would buttress his case, such as the increase in economic growth from an expanded labor supply that would come from personal accounts.

Possibly the biggest macroeconomic problem with the current Social Security system is that it encourages workers to retire too early. Perhaps unwisely, most people start drawing benefits at age 62, the first moment they can, despite receiving 25 percent lower benefits for doing so.

 Social Security rules effectively prohibit early retirees from working full-time, because they lose 50 cents in benefits for each dollar of wages they earn above $12,000. There is no loss of benefits for those above the normal retirement age, which is 65 years and six months this year. However, the normal retirement age is rising to 67, meaning that in future years more and more early retirees will lose benefits if they work.

 I do not believe that we as a society can afford to have so many well-educated, experienced, highly skilled workers leave the labor force just so they can get their money's worth out of Social Security. We don't take private pensions away from those who continue working after they begin drawing benefits, and we don't penalize those with interest or dividend income well above $12,000. We only penalize those who want to work.

 This may have made some sense in the 1930s, when the government was trying to create vacancies for the unemployed. But today, it is crazy. It is doubly crazy when research shows that the key to living a long and healthy life is by continuing to work in some way. More and more companies are now doing what they can to accommodate the needs of elderly workers because they view them as a valuable resource.

 But as long as we have a Social Security system that actively discourages seniors from working, there is a severe limit to what businesses can do to make it worth their while.

Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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