The two papers that make up the core of this book address what is perhaps the most fundamental question in the current debate over Social Security: whether to shift, in part or even entirely, from today's pay-as-you-go system to one that is not just funded but also privatized in the sense that individuals would retain control over the investment of their funds and, therefore, personally bear the associated risk. John Shoven argues yes, Henry Aaron no. Theoretical issues such as the likely effects on saving behavior and capital formation figure importantly in this discussion. But so do a broad array of practical considerations such as the expense of fund management and accounting, questions about how the public would regard the fairness of any new system, and the impact of recent developments in the federal budget and the U.S. stock market.
The book also includes responses to both papers by four prominent economists—Robert J. Barro and David M. Cutler, of Harvard University; Alicia H. Munnell, of Boston College; and James Tobin, of Yale University—as well as Henry Aaron's and John Shoven's replies. The introductory remarks are by Benjamin M. Friedman.
Public and private pensions control almost a quarter of the United States' tangible wealth—equivalent to all of the country's residential real estate. They account for most current saving in the country, are a crucial component of household retirement resources, and have significant effects on labor market mobility and efficiency. Collectively, they hold a tremendous proportion of all common stock.
The stock market has boomed during the past decade, as baby boomers have rapidly accumulated pension assets. Now economists are starting to wonder what will happen when the baby boomers retire. It is already clear that the Social Security system will require drastic changes to remain solvent. Will the stock market experience a similar meltdown as baby boomers withdraw their assets from pension plans? What policies might help to avoid such a crisis?
According to Schieber and Shoven, pension policy will emerge as one of the key economic issues of the next decade. This book provides a guide to the debate. Topics include the impact of pensions on personal and national saving, the potential for a Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation financial crisis, the dramatic growth in 401(k) plans, public sector plants, the prospects for adequate retirement income in the future, and recommended directions for pension policies.
The book contains ten chapters, four written by Schieber and Shoven. The remaining contributors are Robert Clark, Ping-Lung Hsin, Olivia Mitchell, James Poterba, Andrew Samwick, Jonathan Skinner, Steven Venti, Carolyn Weaver, David Wise, and Elisa Wolper.