Richard Leone

Richard C. Leone is president of the Century Foundation, and co-editor of Beyond the Basics: Social Security Reform.

Recent Articles

We're All in This Together

Savings are low, debt is mounting, the dollar is weak, and the economy is projected to grow more slowly in this century than the last. But that's not the half of it. What we really have to worry about, according to a chorus of prophets, is the prospect of Americans living too long. This failure to die in a timely fashion apparently means no end of trouble for younger citizens -- and even represents some kind of accounting swindle in which the long-lived threaten to take more out of the economy and Social Security than they ever put into it! This is the sort of tortured reasoning that Americans -- especially younger Americans -- confront when trying to understand what remedies are needed to keep a basic safety net in place for retirement. According to President Bush and his allies, the transition to a longer-lived society lies in stripping out some of the funds currently going to Social Security and using them for personal accounts, largely invested in the stock market. Bush's plan for...

American Families at Risk

Since the Great Depression, there has been a strong national political consensus supporting policies that help middle-class families cope with the multiple risks in our market economy. These include the risks of illness, destitution in old age, hazards from defective products, polluted natural resources, industrial accidents, corporate frauds, high unemployment, and other assaults largely beyond the individual's control. Such policies are not, by and large, targeted redistributions to the poor but protections for the broad middle class. Many government activities reflect this concern, including social investments financed by a progressive tax code and a wide array of regulatory protections, almost all the result of necessary responses to past abuses by the market. Such essential services as electricity, water, telephone, and, for that matter, private insurance of various kinds have also been secured by government investment and regulation. Without these diverse government activities,...

The Risky Business of Retirement

It's not your imagination: Americans are facing a lot more risk these days. Gone are the sense of national invulnerability and the notion that we are widely beloved because of our prosperity, our movies, our Bill of Rights, even our McDonald's. We find ourselves more alone than we have been, perhaps ever, with an unfamiliar sense of physical fear. We've also been hit over the head with forceful reminders that job markets and stock markets go down as well as up. And as if there weren't enough stress, we are beginning to realize that, when it comes to a secure retirement, most of us have neither earned enough nor saved enough to have the life we imagined for our last act. Planning for retirement, of course, has always involved multiple uncertainties. For that reason, retirement experts believe that most workers should have a "three-legged stool" to fall back on: personal wealth, a government-backed safety net of social insurance (composed in the United States of Social Security,...

Inequality and Social Security

S ocial Security is center stage in the presidential campaign, as it should be. The stakes are enormous. George W. Bush and some Democrats want to divert part of the program to individual retirement accounts. Al Gore would maintain the present system, but supplement it with government-subsidized personal accounts to help low- and middle-income families build financial wealth. Though it is rarely appreciated as such, the Social Security debate is substantially a debate about inequality. In the past few years, researchers here and abroad have produced a new wave of evidence that relative inequality in income and wealth contributes to a variety of social pathologies. These effects seem to hold up despite absolute increases in income at all levels. We've known for a long time, of course, that the most advantaged segments of the population live longer and healthier lives. Today, a growing body of new social science research demonstrates the effects of inequality in a...

What's Trust Got to Do With It?

Everything. Cynicism is crippling our capacity to deal with public problems.

Despite its strains, the marriage of democracy to capitalism is a durable one. These days, however, we display little trust in either our economic prospect or our system of governance. Yet neither markets nor elections will produce happy results if distrust and self-interest overwhelm common rules and compromise other necessary values. Trust, after all, is not a product of popular elections and booming markets; it is a prerequisite for both. This nation is constructed on overlapping communities, often ill at ease with each other. Yet somehow in the past, when necessary, we have made common cause for the necessary sacrifices that create an enlarged future. We found consensus with the help of political, business, labor, cultural, religious, and media leaders. But today, is there a national public figure who is widely trusted? During the past 20 years, Americans, not for the first time, have moved beyond skepticism to disdain of politics and government. One recent survey indicates that...

Pages