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Oglesby: Fix for Social Security within reach
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What options exist that can prevent a Social Security disaster? How expensive will each be? Most importantly, will they actually and permanently do the job?

Many in Congress tout various plans, some with several parts. For example, increase the age for receiving full benefits to 70. Increase the age to draw reduced benefits to 65. That coupling would decrease trust fund outflow for several years but alone is far from enough. Nor does it consider that some people physically can't work that long. The idea, however, could be an important part of a more comprehensive plan.

Others say increase the wage base on which Social Security taxes are based incrementally but substantially. It is now $108,000 of earned income. Additionally, apply the tax to other income such as interest, dividends and taxable portions of annuities.

Still others suggest applying a means test for recipients based on the amount of total retirement income. It would reduce on a sliding scale the amount of normal benefits, wealthy retirees getting00 less.

All these combined postpones the ultimate day of reckoning for a number of years, but the fact remains an ultimate day of reckoning will come. Do we and our descendants keep paying more and more or do we tackle a permanent solution that certainly will be more expensive up front? That's the crux of a real debate, one probably framed by philosophical leanings.

A cooperative possibility incorporating some or all of the above ideas then making private enterprise part of the team could reach a long term goal of totally eliminating FICA taxes as such, producing greater benefits during retirement years plus leaving something for heirs, something not now done. It is possible though you, I and perhaps our grandchildren, many not yet born, won't live to see the final product, but they and their heirs could be far better off in their retirement years.

Here's how: All current recipients would draw benefits, as they do now. Immediately, however, allow all workers under 40 years old to choose voluntarily to allocate up to 40 percent of the tax into a private investment fund in the Social Security account. That fund would be invested in top grade securities (stocks, bonds, CDs) selected by the person from an approved list that would be age appropriate with no more than 10 percent in more risky than top grade.

No more than 10 percent of the total could be in any one security. No current recipient would have to join the program.

Compose a seven-member governing board including a representative of Social Security, a majority and minority appointee of the Senate and House committee with primary Social Security oversight, and a member selected by participating brokerage firms. The president would appoint the chairman.

Historically, private investment generates the greatest returns. Earnings allocated to the persons' accounts would be theirs, and because their investments would vary, results also would. When one reaches retirement age, they would draw a benefit based on actuarial formula from that account as now done. Upon death, a participant's heirs would get the balance whereas now few get anything. When that long range goal is reached, there would be no more Social Security taxes per se, no more tax-funded guaranteed government program, only a mandatory retirement program. A long time but well worth it.


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Ted Oglesby is retired associate and opinion editor of The Times. His column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at You can reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503.