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Social Security is Fair to All Generations: Demystifying the Trust Fund, Solvency, and the Promise to Younger Americans

Monday, Mar 27, 2017 @ 4:30 pm - 6:30 pm

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Current Issues in Tax Law and Policy Colloquium


Social Security is Fair to All Generations: Demystifying the Trust Fund, Solvency, and the Promise to Younger Americans


Neil Buchanan

March 27, 2017

4:30-6:30 p.m.

UC Irvine School of Law

 Room MPAA 420 (map)

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Article Abstract


The birth of the Baby Boom generation created a profound policy challenge for the Social Security system: Should the system continue to be run as a pay-as-you-go system, or should the large new cohort of workers be forced to save for their own future retirements? Although the outward structure of the Social Security system was not changed, the Baby Boomers were, in fact, required to save for their own retirements. They did so by paying higher taxes than would otherwise have been necessary, thus contributing to total national saving in a way that allowed the economy to grow more quickly than it would have otherwise. In turn, Boomers bequeathed to their children the economic wherewithal to support their parents in retirement, even while the post-Boomers will enjoy higher living standards during both their working lives and in their retirements. I t is possible, however, that this supposed generational sacrifice was illusory, that the Baby Boomers were otherwise impoverishing their children and grandchildren, even as they paid extra money into the Social Security system each year.


Fortunately, the evidence shows otherwise. Even the most pessimistic economic assessment of Social Security’s cost to future generations shows only a trivial effect on the path of increasing national income, and there is no suggestion at all that Social Security’s decades of surpluses were the cause of any other changes in fiscal policy that would have had a negative impact on future generations. Although the Baby Boom generation can rightly be accused of making many mistakes that have harmed their children and grandchildren, the Social Security system is most definitely not one of those mistakes. It is a triumph of political propaganda that the one thing that the Baby Boomers did best is now so badly misunderstood that it has become the symbol of a generation’s failure. The Social Security system does not need to be fixed, because it is not broken, and if left alone (or, even better, if it is expanded), it will continue to do its job well.


About Professor Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is Professor of law at The George Washington University Law School. He teaches tax law, tax policy, contracts, and law and economics. His research addresses the long-term tax and spending patterns of the federal government, focusing on budget deficits, the national debt, health care costs, and Social Security. He also is engaged in a long-term research project that asks how current policy choices should be shaped by concerns for the interests of future generations. More about Prof. Buchanan >


About this Colloquium

Tax policy is at the forefront of the political discourse in the United States. Corporate tax avoidance, IRS alleged targeting of political groups, and the administration of the Affordable Care Act through the Internal Revenue Code are just a few examples of the centrality of tax policy to the political process in the United States. This colloquium differentiates itself from other workshops by emphasizing tax issues of current relevance.


This colloquium brings leading tax scholars and tax-policy experts to present their works in progress to a tax law seminar class at UC Irvine School of Law. Anyone with a keen interest in tax policy is welcome to attend.


Please RSVP via the respective links for each event below . MCLE credit is offered and light refreshments will be served.


More about the series >