Social security, a retrospective look at decisions for complex futures

by Audrey Chin

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The Social Security system is now 48 years old and on the brink of bankruptcy. Yet, it is only within the last ten years that insolvency has become a pressing problem for the program. From an examination of Social Security's history, it appears that while demography and economic reverses have certainly been causes of the problem, there are other more fundamental, if less direct, factors causing the system's problems. The decisonmaking process that developed for Social Security and the institutional pressures that affected the program's development created a situation where, until 1981, it was unattractive for policymakers to accept scenarios other than those of continued growth and surplus. Thus, no preparations were made for the changes of the 1970s and the resulting financial difficulties.

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