Rich Tucker

But starting in 2018 the math changes. The system will owe more in benefits than it will collect in taxes. Heritage Foundation Social Security expert David John estimates ?annual deficits will exceed $100 billion within about five years, $200 billion after about ten years, and $300 billion after about fifteen years.?

Again, those who claim Social Security is solvent rely on the trust fund, which supposedly has enough money to make up those deficits until 2032 or 2042 or whenever. But the trust fund is like my $50,000 I.O.U. It?s a promise with no money attached. If we really intend to pay Social Security benefits in, say, 2025, we?ll have to take lots of money out of general tax revenues to do so. That will mean higher taxes, less spending on other government programs, or both.

We can fix this, if we want to.

Anyone who owns an IRA or 401(k) understands the beauty of compound interest. Even after the shellacking the market took a couple of years ago, almost everyone has more money in his or her account than was actually put there. Let?s create and fund personal retirement accounts (PRAs) within Social Security, so workers will have real money at retirement.

After all, if we allow average-income workers to set aside about 5 percent of their Social Security taxes in PRAs, the government projects the system will be solvent through at least 2077, without a reduction in benefits.

But we?ve got to get started. The closer we get to 2018, the tougher it will be for future retirees to build up real wealth.

There?s a clear choice. We can either plan now, or pass the I.O.U. on to our children and grandchildren. And, like my scheme outlined above, passing the buck isn?t a plan. It?s a punt.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for