Henry Aaron

Henry J. Aaron is a Senior Fellow in the Economic Studies department at the Brookings Institution.

Recent Articles

Triumph and Tribulation

How progressives might approach changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

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Our Best Anti-Poverty Program

Why does the United States and every other developed nation have a system of social-insurance pensions? The simple answer is that social insurance is intended to ensure basic income to those no longer able to work. These include the elderly, the disabled, orphans, and widows and widowers with small children. “Ensure” means that incomes must be available reliably; “basic” means that government's obligation is limited. That is why social-insurance pensions typically replace a larger fraction of earnings of those at the bottom of the wage ladder than those at the top. Social Security benefits also rise as average earnings increase. As Bernard Wasow of The Century Foundation points out, in 1935, when the Social Security Act was passed, “basic” may not have included indoor plumbing and running water in much of the country. There are alternatives to social insurance. One approach would leave entirely to individuals the task of saving for retirement and of buying insurance against death or...