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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Consulting the Public

Kevin Kosar and John Maxwell Hamilton at RCP:

 Fixing Social Security is a straightforward arithmetic problem. Revenues need to cover the outlays. The tricky part is to decide who pays more or gets less.

To see if a mutually acceptable solution was possible, the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation surveyed 2,500 Americans. These women and men received a battery of facts, figures, and policy options. And, lo, a consensus emerged that touched on both the revenue side of the equation and the outlay side.

Strong majorities favored lifting the level of income subject to Social Security taxes, which is currently capped at $160,200. They also favored lifting the payroll tax rate from 6.2 to 6.5 percent. John and Jane Q. Public also thought benefits should be trimmed a little by raising the retirement age from 67 to 68 years.

These solutions would keep Social Security solvent for 75 more years.


It is one thing to inveigh against the other side of the aisle, and quite another for individuals on the fringes to argue excluding the great mass of Americans from the political process.

One way to organize such an approach is for legislators to partner with nonpartisan research outfits like Professor Kull’s or Ohio State University’s Connecting to Congress initiative. They can convene cross-sections of Americans to deliberate with members about public problems. These meetings would not be anarchic public townhalls that, as often happens, feature cranks shouting nonsense. Nor would they be like the typical congressional hearings, which are adversarial proceedings that encourage acrimony and showboating. These panels would have legislators and citizens having a structured conversation to better understand a public problem and to come up with solutions.