The Language of Social Security Reform (Take 2)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Language of Social Security Reform (Take 2)

Greg Crist and his fellow GOP message-nazis who are trying to root out the use of the term "privatization" should be quite pleased with

Last year, I applauded the creation of this website and expressed high hopes for the role it could play. But I've been disappointed by recent posts on, including this one using the term "individual accounts" to describe the Bush administration's Social Security reform proposal.

The term "individual accounts" is a poor descriptor of the president's reform proposal. For starters, it fails to distinguish the Bush proposal from the status quo.

Many, if not most, Americans already think of themselves as having individual accounts -- they have an SS number that is theirs and theirs alone, and they receive periodic updates from the Social Security administration projecting their individual monthly benefit (upon retirement).

Peter Ferrara, the policy wonk who effectively hatched the idea that Bush has embraced, has enthusiastically embraced the term "private investment accounts," "privatized system" and similar terms.

In fact, in his well-circulated 1997 policy paper, "A Plan for Privating Social Security," Ferrara uses some form of the word "private" 193 times to describe his proposal. On only two or three occasions in this paper does Ferrara use the term "individual" in a similar context.

Aside from Ferrara's preference, the mainstream media have used the term "private accounts" more often than any other term. Given these facts, it seems that the burden would fall on to explain why it chose to part company with others by adopting the mushier term of "individual accounts."

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