I tried not to watch the State of the Union, but I couldn't stay away from the much-hyped Social Security bit. Two things struck me. First, I felt a little nostalgic hearing Bush describe the problems with Social Security, how it works, etc -- it reminded me a lot of making just about the same speech every day as an employee of SSA three years ago. People's eyes glazed over hearing about it then, and I can't imagine their reactions will be any different now. This is an issue people care about, but broad stroke visions of responsibility and ownership aren't going to resonate. In my experience, people want to know how much they are going to get.
And then on the ownership rhetoric: it seemed to me there was a real dissonance between Bush's idea of giving people ownership of their payroll tax contributions and the reality of the personal accounts as he described them. These accounts seem limited on a number of dimensions: what you can invest in, when and how quickly you can get your funds out, who you can leave the money to, whether you have to contribute or not. Aren't these supposed to be private accounts? If the goal is to give Americans more ownership of their retirement, why impose all of these restrictions? The answer is that the goal of a retirement plan isn't to create ownership -- it's to create security.