The Future of Social Security

A Public Forum
February 10, 2005
7:00 p.m.
The Jewish Theological Seminary

Social Security is the country's largest government program, comprising 21 percent of all federal spending. Social Security's revenues, which come mostly from payroll taxes, are more than sufficient to pay benefits in the near term. But changing demographics make the current system unsustainable over the long term. The problems will begin in 2018. From that time through 2080, Social Security might face a deficit of over $20 trillion.

This change is largely due to the rapid aging of the population. Low birthrates reduce the number of taxpaying workers, while longer life spans increase the number of beneficiaries. When the baby boomers were born, there were more than five workers per beneficiary. By the time boomers are fully eligible for benefits, there will be two workers per beneficiary. This declining ratio is a problem because current workers pay for the benefits of current retirees. Ultimately, the need for reform is not a matter of ideology. It is a matter of arithmetic.

Yet ideology plays a major role. Conservatives, such as President Bush, favor individual retirement accounts, which would give current workers a role in deciding how their contributions are allotted. Some of their money would be diverted from the system. Liberals see this as a betrayal of the intent of the system: to provide a guaranteed floor of support so that no retired citizen has to live in poverty. Conservatives see this plan as part of an empowering "ownership society." Liberals see it as a triumph of selfishness and depletion of the common good. Ultimately, these are moral issues. What does one generation owe to another? What do individuals owe to the community?

Massive borrowing to finance the diminished cash flow caused by diverting funds to private accounts, reduced benefits, increased taxes—none of these are appealing ideas. Yet something must be done. The Bush administration intends to make Social Security reform the centerpiece of its domestic policy in its second term. Which plan should prevail?

Participants
Susan Lee
Commentator, NPR's Marketplace

As a print journalist, Dr. Lee was a columnist and member of the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal (2000–2005), she worked as deputy editor of the op–ed page at the New York Times (1988–1990), and as a senior editor and columnist at Forbes (1984–1988, 1996–1998). Dr. Lee has also worked at BusinessWeek as a senior editor and columnist. She has won several prizes, including the Amos Tuck Award for a syndicated columnist while writing for Vogue and the Institute on Political Journalism's 2001 Award for Excellence in Economic Journalism.

Dr. Lee was a regular panelist on the weekly Journal Editorial Report on PBS (2004–2005) and Wall Street Journal Editorial Board on CNBC (2000–2003). Her other television work includes ABC-TV's Nightline (1987–1989), ABC-TV's Good Morning America (1985–1990), and the McNeil–Lehrer Newshour (1991–1996, 2002–2003). She was a weekly business commentator for NBC-TV's News at Sunrise (1991–1993) and also an economics commentator for NPR's Marketplace (1996–1999).

After receiving a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, Dr. Lee earned an MA and PhD in economic history from Columbia University. Her dissertation was awarded with distinction and was nominated for the Bancroft Prize. She was also a John Jay Fellow and a President's Fellow at Columbia. Dr. Lee taught in the economics department at Columbia for several years as an adjunct professor. From 1991 to 1993 she was a DeWitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC.

In addition to various technical articles and books, Dr. Lee is the author of Hands Off: Why Government is a Menace to Economic Health, published by Simon & Schuster in 1996; Susan Lee's ABZ's of Money and Finance (1988) and Susan Lee's ABZ's of Economics (1987) both published by Simon & Schuster; and is coauthor, with Peter Passell, of A New Economic View of American History, a college textbook (1979, revised edition in 1981) published by W. W. Norton.

Dr. Lee has been a member of the Board of Directors of UJA–Federation Employment and Guidance Services since 1988, and a Director of the Leonard Silk Foundation since 1996. She also has served on the Board of Visitors at the University of California–Davis Graduate School of Business (1981–1988) and on the Board of Trustees of the Property and Environment Research Center (1990–1992).

In 2002, Dr. Lee received an MA from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She is currently working on a master of sacred theology degree at General Theological Seminary.

Allan Sloan
Wall Street Editor, Newsweek

Allan Sloan, Newsweek's Wall Street Editor, has won numerous awards and honors in his thirty–year business-writing career. Mr. Sloan, who joined Newsweek in March 1995, is a six–time winner of the Gerald Loeb Award, business journalism's highest honor. In 2001, he received the Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award for business and financial journalism—making a total of six Loeb Awards in four different categories, in four different decades, for four different employers. He also won the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2001, and has previously won the John Hancock Award for excellence in business and financial journalism.

Mr. Sloan is a contributor to Public Radio International's Marketplace, whose Sloan Sessions are broadcast on Monday mornings, and frequently appears as a commentator on the PBS television program Nightly Business Report. His Newsweek columns also appear in the Washington Post.

In addition to his Loeb and Hancock awards, Mr. Sloan's honors include being named regularly to lists of the nation's most influential and respected business journalists. He was named an Alumnus of the Year in 1999 by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Before joining Newsweek, Mr. Sloan was a columnist at Newsday, where his column was syndicated nationally to newspapers including the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Arizona Republic, and the Denver Post. From 1984 to 1988 he was a senior editor for Forbes magazine. Prior to that, he was a staff writer for Money magazine (1982–1984), an associate editor for Forbes (1979–1981), and a business reporter for the Detroit Free Press (1972–1978). His business writing career began at the Charlotte Observer (NC) in 1969, where he also worked briefly as a sports writer. He has won Loeb Awards at Newsweek, Forbes, and the Free Press, and two at Newsday, where he also won the Hancock Award.

Mr. Sloan, a native of Brooklyn, received an MS from the Columbia Journalism School in 1967 and a BA from Brooklyn College in 1966. He attended the Seminary College of The Jewish Theological Seminary for two years while he was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College.

He and his wife live in New Jersey. They have three grown children.

Robert L. Bixby
Executive Director, the Concord Coalition

Robert L. Bixby is executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to educating the public about federal budget issues and their consequences for the future. The Concord Coalition was founded in 1992 by former US Senators Warren Rudman (R–NH) and Paul Tsongas (D–MA), and former Secretary of Commerce Peter G. Peterson. The nonprofit organization is now chaired by Senators Rudman and Sam Nunn (D–GA).

Mr. Bixby has a bachelor's degree in political science from American University in Washington DC, a juris doctorate from George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia, and a master's degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Following his graduation from law school, Mr. Bixby served as a law clerk for the circuit court judges of Prince William County, Virginia. He later clerked for Judge Barbara M. Keenan of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, and stayed with the Court of Appeals for three more years as its chief staff attorney.

In 1992, Mr. Bixby was named Virginia cochairman of the presidential campaign of the late Paul Tsongas. Later that year, Mr. Bixby became the first Virginia state director of the Concord Coalition, and in 1995 he was named national field director. In that capacity he helped to design Concord's popular DebtBusters exercise, in which people work together in small groups to devise their own plans for balancing the federal budget.

After two and a half years of directing Concord's extensive field organization, Mr. Bixby became policy director in 1997. As policy director he was involved in planning a series of national bipartisan forums on Social Security reform cosponsored by the Concord Coalition and AARP at the request of the Clinton administration. This work included preparation of Saving Social Security: A Framework for Reform, which was published by the Concord Coalition in conjunction with the bipartisan forums.

Mr. Bixby was named executive director of the Concord Coalition in October 1999. He frequently represents Concord's views on budget and entitlement reform policy at congressional hearings and in the national media.

Cosponsors
Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies

Since 1938, the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies has maintained an innovative interfaith and intergroup relations program that emphasizes conversation among diverse communities about matters of public significance. The program's ability to unite voices from different academic, social, and religious communities has resulted in unique conferences and interfaith cooperation. It has also brought the relevance of Judaism and other religions to prominence in scholarship on ethical, public-policy, and scientific issues.

The Concord Coalition
The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization advocating fiscal responsibility while ensuring Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are secure for all generations. The Concord Coalition was founded in 1992 by the late former Senator Paul Tsongas (D–MA), former Senator Warren Rudman (R–NH), and former US Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson. Former Senator Bob Kerrey (D–NE), president of the New School University, was named a cochair of the Concord Coalition in January 2002.