To the Editor:

Brett Edkins’ handsome piece on social security (“Bush’s Social Security puts worst off worse off,” 3/2) is certainly right about the STP (“screw the poor”) effect of the disastrous Bush plan to dismantle this mainstay program of social responsibility. But I regret the assumption that this is not the sort of issue to engage the collective conscience of college students. It is — or ought to be.

Behind the fiscal irresponsibility of the privatization plan, there looms a great ideological warfare between what President Bush calls “ownership society” and what John Kerry stood for in criticizing Bush’s vision as the “you’re on your own” society. The Bush plan confuses Social Security with individual retirement accounts, well worth promoting as means for workers to build their private nest eggs, but a different thing altogether from what we should consider our collective retirement account. Our country needs the involvement of the youth to insure that the collective spirit and collective responsibility do not get lost.

Once the battle lines are drawn in these terms, the counter to the Bush proposal is startlingly simple; we must abolish the $90,000 cap on taxable wages and allow those who could most easily assume more of the burden to do so. The only question for Democrats and socially responsible Republicans should be whether, at the same time, we could do right by our poorest workers and eliminate the Social Security tax on the first $5,000 or $10,000 of wages. Allowing workers to rechannel that money into IRA accounts would satisfy both the privatizers and the defenders of social conscience.

Leslie Brisman

March 2, 2005

The writer is the Karl Young Professor of English.