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Globalization, Neoliberalism and the attack on social security

Christopher Niggle

Review of Social Economy, 2003, vol. 61, issue 1, 51-71

Abstract: Neoliberal political movements advocate privatization of public pension systems. Globalization imposes pressure on nations to conform to neoliberal policy views with respect to the design and structure of social insurance, including public pension systems. The paper begins with an investigation of the economic, ethical and ideological dimensions of the privatization debates in the U.S.; it argues that privatization advocates may be largely moved by ideology, since the other reasons advanced appear weak or unfounded. The second part discusses the history of Social Security, the purposes for its creation, and some of its economic effects. Differences between public and private pension systems are considered. A brief international comparison of some aspects of public pension system finance and benefit structures is presented. The final section considers the ethical, macroeconomic and distributional implications of privatization, prefunding and payroll tax funding, and argues for a pay as you go system financed with income taxes. In order to promote equity, economic security, community, and social cohesion, public pension systems should be universal in coverage. In order to reduce the inequality, income insecurity, and aged poverty generated by market economies, public pension systems ought to be progressive: benefit/contribution ratios should be inversely proportional to income, and progressive income taxes should finance the system. To promote economic growth, the systems should be financed on a pay-as-you-go basis, and should not be prefunded except for an emergency reserve. The fiscal policy recommendations partially depend upon the theory developed by Abba Lerner in the 1940s, and recently advanced by Wynne Godley and Randy Wray: Lerner's “principle of functional finance.”

Date: 2003
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DOI: 10.1080/0034676032000050275

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