Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Back when I was The Man Who Saved Social Security some weirdo invited me to speak at a retirement policy conference in DC. There was consensus agreement that our retirement system was fucked, and also consensus agreement that expanding Social Security was unpossible. So proposals ranged from The Left (how about...state-level add ons to Social Security which are just like more Social Security but only in some states!!) and the Right (well, if we make 401ks opt-out instead of opt-in, experiments show a 25% increase in contributions so surely if we re-run this experiment for another 45 years it'll work out better this time).

One of my points in the discussion was that I didn't know why all these plans, whatever their merits otherwise, were so damn complicated and put the burden of handling this complexity onto individuals. The conservative guy response was, "Social Security is so complicated! Have you actually looked into the benefit formulas!" Also something about "individual responsibility" as if working for 45 years isn't individual responsibility enough.

And, you know, I have looked into the benefit formulas some. They are complicated! But they're sitting on a computer in a warehouse somewhere and nobody has to worry their beautiful minds about them. I work, some money is taken out of my pay, and when I retire the government starts sending me the check. Nerdy bureaucrats are paid a salary to deal with the complexities. Ideally I don't have to do a damn thing!

Of course policy implementation is complex and transition costs are potentially costly. There's no reason the burdens of either need to be placed on the shoulders of voters. The idea that anything good must be made just a little bit miserable for normal people is pervasive.