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By Michael TannerAndre DuChateau, George T. Crane / November 19, 1996



No Denying Social Security's Problems

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The author of the Nov. 4 opinion-page article "Social Security: Beware of Panic Peddlers" insists that there is no problem with Social Security. Unfortunately, the facts say otherwise.

This summer, the Social Security system's Board of Trustees reported that Social Security will be insolvent by 2029, down from 2030 in last year's report. This represents the eighth time in the last 10 years that the insolvency date has been brought forward.

But Social Security's problems actually begin as early as 2012, the year in which the system begins to run a deficit. Social Security taxes currently bring in more revenue than the system pays out in benefits. The surplus theoretically accumulates in the Social Security Trust Fund. However, in 2012 the situation will reverse. Social Security will begin paying out more benefits than it collects in revenues. To continue meeting its obligations, it will have to begin drawing on the surplus trust fund.

But the trust fund is really little more than a polite fiction. For years the federal government has used the trust fund to disguise the actual size of the federal budget deficit, borrowing money from the trust fund to pay current operating expenses and replacing the money with government bonds - essentially IOUs.

The author insists that those bonds are safe. In fact, the government can pay promised benefits only by raising taxes - or borrowing and running bigger deficits.

There is no reason to panic. There is time to make the reforms necessary to ensure both today's and tomorrow's elderly will be able to retire with dignity. But we will get nowhere if we continue to deny the problem.

Michael Tanner

Washington

Boeing's fighter history

In the Nov. 6 article "Dogfight Heats Up Over One-Size-Fits-All Fighter," the author states, "Boeing ... has never built a fighter aircraft." This is historically incorrect.

Boeing's pre-World War II fighter/pursuit planes included the Navy's F4B-4 biplane, the Army's P12 biplane, and the Army's P26, our first all-metal, monoplane fighter.

Andre DuChateau

Brookline, Mass.

Three points on Singapore

The Singaporean ambassador raises three questions in her Nov. 15 letter, "Singapore knows what it's doing," regarding my Nov. 7 commentary, "The Caning of Democracy."

First, she asks why Singaporeans vote for the People's Action Party (PAP) if it is truly oppressive? The answer is straightforward: The PAP has systematically undermined legitimate opposition so that there is little alternative, and it threatens voters with reduced government services if they fail to return PAP legislators. The prudent Singaporean interested in an improvement in his or her state-provided housing will vote for PAP under such circumstances.

Second, the ambassador points out that certain business organizations have given the Singaporean judiciary high marks for efficiency and fairness. We would expect as much insofar as the political prospects of the ruling party are very much dependent upon the maintenance of a stable business environment. The true test of a judiciary's independence from the ruling party is its demonstrated capacity to find against, when warranted, the immediate interests of the political leadership. It is precisely on this score that a wide variety of organizations - Human Rights Watch Asia, the New York City Bar Association, the British Privy Council, and the United States State Department - have all argued that the Singaporean judiciary lacks real independence.

Third, the ambassador repeats the oft-repeated insinuation that I was unwilling to debate Prime Minister Goh last year. This is not true. Pressing family matters made it impossible for me to travel to Singapore at the time, but I offered to exchange views with the prime minister via television. I wanted to debate but the prime minister never responded to my counteroffer. All of this was reported at the time in the Singaporean newspaper, the Straits Times.

George T. Crane

Williamstown, Mass.

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