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Checks and Balances in Social Security: Symposium in honor of Robert J. Myers.

Checks and Balances in Social Security; Symposium in honor of Robert J. Myers

The symposium for which this book serves as a proceedings took place in October of 1982. The fact that publication of the book occurred four years after the symposium and that this review appears another three years later should not deter any serious student of social insurance from studying the book in depth. Most of the papers presented are still timely; in fact, the passage of time emphasizes the unique contribution of many of the presenters. Only two or three papers out of 28 have become outdated, primarily because the subject matter was related to then-current problems in financing. Some of the more unusual topics which I found to be quite exciting to think about included the following.

Near the end of the volume (article 26), Vladimir Rys describes the evolution of social security systems as the product of three forces: development of a concept of social justice coupled with "the political will to act" (p. 295), evolution of statistical techniques of probability and technological means to implement these techniques, and the development of administrative and bureaucratic skills. This is one of several articles which detail historical processes. George Rohrlich discusses "The Reluctant Commitment" (article 1) of the country to a vast social security system. Joseph Humphreys (article 5) outlines the connections between the Social Security program and the federal budget, beginning with what he calls the "essentially political issue" of presenting data in separate tables, and moving through the more complex real interrelationships which have developed since the Johnson administration. James W. Kelley (article 3) discusses "Changes in Enactment Procedures" which have occurred over time and their implications for the program and the people served.

From more recent history, Milton S. Gwirtzman (article 6) summarizes results from several public opinion polls of the last decade, reiterating the important idea that the issues are very complex and easily susceptible to oversimplification in polls. James J. Dillman (article 17) summarizes the recommendations of the 1979-1981 National Commission on Social Security, a useful contribution for those new to the study of this program. In article 20, Elizabeth Duskin describes how the National Commission on Social Security Reform, 1982-1983, reached agreement on proposals to rescue the system from "impending doom". Myers, to whom this symposium was dedicated, contributed a discussion of the 1983 Amendments (basically a reprint from the January 1984 CLU Journal). Finally, William M. Yoffee (article 25) details the standards for social security systems adopted by the International Labor Organization; this is an interesting and provocative discussion I've not see elsewhere.

A second set of articles relates to specific aspects of the present system of social security. C. L. Trowbridge, in article 6, delineates six indicators which are used to mathematically predict the level of payroll tax rate needed to finance the system's cash outflow in the next period. Bayo, Glanz, and Trowbridge then, in the last article of the book, examine the trends of these indicators over the last 30 years to explain the tripling of program costs during that time. Both of these articles can be read as introductions to the topic for undergraduate students or examined in depth by serious researchers.

A third set of contributions presents proposals for change in the system which are often different from the standard proposals seen in most discussions. Jack S. Futterman (article 4) presents compelling arguments for "Unburdening the ... Program of Short-Term Commissioners", basically a recent problem with serious consequences for taxpayers and benefit recipients alike. Alicia Munnell (article 8) discusses the economic arguments related to taxation of benefits, while Barnet N. Baren (article 9) proposes a joint actuarial committee to review all proposals for change. Yung-Ping Chen (in article 23), continues a tradition of innovative financing ideas (begun with his original proposal for reverse annuity mortgages) by proposing a plan for a sliding scale of accrued benefits to be paid in the form of a bond when trust fund balances decline beyond a certain point.

The editing by Chen and Rohrlich deserves comment, also. 1) I don't believe the title really reflects the significant contributions of this collection. 2) The organization of topics is awkward. I see three distinct groups of papers: historical, analytical, and future oriented topics. 3) The appendix list of participants and their affiliation is useful; an affiliation identification at the beginning of each article would have been more useful. 4) The discussion of "bend point modification" (p. 123) needs to be amended by a footnote to explain the meaning of this term. 5) L. Edwin Wang's descriptive statistics summarizing a questionaire sent to administrators of church employee-benefit plans was not, in my opinion, very useful information. Discussion of the significance of these data would have better fit the nature of the book. 5) I particularly enjoyed the presentations by special interest groups (the AFL-CIO, National Association of Life Underwriters, and International Labor Organization) of the "agendas" of their membership.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised after studying this volume. I had anticipated a rehashing of the standard articles, but found that this was not the case. I recommend a place on the shelf for this book.
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Author:Gasper, Juli-Ann
Publication:Journal of Risk and Insurance
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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