As social security comes of age in an uncertain climate, Americans find news reports and 'official' projections disturbing in ways they do not fully understand - but dare not ignore. The challenges that beset social security, however, are not just actuarial or fiscal in nature. The choices before us require a confrontation with the political and philosophical underpinnings of the American experiment. Fifty years ago, Franklin Roosevelt envisioned social security to be the cornerstone 'for the kind of protection America wants' from the financial troubles people faced due to old age and family tragedies. By fulfilling its initial promise, social security has evolved into the nation's largest, costliest, and most successful domestic institution. But the optimistic assumptions that inspired its incremental expansion have dissipated in the face of demographic, political, economic, and cultural shifts in American society. Despite past successes, social security no longer enjoys solid support. Critics predict further trouble in coming decades. Social Security: Visions and Revisions encourages lawmakers, academic experts, and general readers alike to think more broadly and boldly about social security and its relation to public assistance and other income-maintenance and health-care programs. Pulling together information and insights previously scattered and fragmentary, this book draws lessons from the past that free us of outdated assumptions and unexamined shibboleths. The re-vision of social security that Achenbaum advocates - one that highlights intergenerational features and underscores the provision of a socially acceptable, universal minimum standard of living - should become the basis of all discussions of government's responsibility to promote 'the general welfare' in our aging society.
'Achenbaum's book is easily the best survey of the history of social security policy that we have. Achenbaum is one of the historians of twentieth-century policy making who have something stimulating and constructive to add to discussions of contemporary policy issues. During the next ten years it will almost certainly become one of the most influential and widely read books on social security.' W. Elliot Brownlee, University of California, Santa Barbara ' ... Sober, thoughtful study ...' The New York Times Book Review