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Chester E. Finn Jr.

Of course I’d love to be able to invest a chunk of my Social Security retirement account. Everybody knows that government invests badly, that the Social Security “trust fund” is a fiction, and that Wall Street’s long-term return on equities has been about eight-percent per year. ($100 put into the New York Stock Exchange the year I graduated from college is worth upwards of $1,000 today.)

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But while the politicians wrangle over whether to give us that option–if they do, it will likely be for a tiny fraction of the money, with stringent restrictions on the investment options–here’s what really caught my eye: the fact that, in 1960, there were 5.1 workers paying into the Social Security system for every retiree taking money out; today that ratio is 3.3:1; and in 2031, just 2.1 workers will be “supporting” each beneficiary.

So here’s a proposal: Instead of letting me invest some of “my” Social Security money, let me pick the workers who will support me when I retire. I’d even settle for just two of them right now (sparing 1.3 workers for someone else) so long as I can designate them.

They should be reasonably young and very healthy, with strong earnings today and huge potential for tomorrow. They should be patriotic Americans with families of their own. A fifth-year resident in thoracic surgery would be good. A Yahoo partner, Microsoft exec, or real-estate mogul would be better. A hedge-fund manager would be great, too, if a tad risky; perhaps he should be paired with a banker or dermatologist. I’d avoid people in precarious industries (airlines, say) and dangerous lines of work (deep-sea treasure hunters, Donald Trump’s wives, and interns) and I’d be wary of celebs and sports stars who may have great earning potential now but uncertain prospects when I really need them.

When I find the right two for me, I’ll be really nice to them. I’ll send them birthday cards and spring for health-club memberships, perhaps even life-insurance policies. I’ll correspond and drop by, if they have time, or leave them alone if they’d prefer. If they want advice about where to send their kids to school, I’m available. I’ll happily supply my favorite chili recipe, or bake brownies. I don’t want to be a pest. But it’s in my interest to help them stay fit, happy, enterprising, and, especially, prosperous.

Selfish? Not at all. Everyone should be free to select the two workers who will support them in old age.

Chancy? A bit, sure, but this plan is an iron-clad, sure-fire, slam-dunk, no-brain certainty compared to expecting Congress to look after me.

Chester E. Finn Jr. is senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.



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