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Working Paper

Social Security and Medicare Policy from the Perspective of General Accounting

Our previous study (Auerbach, Gokhale, and Kotlikoff [1991]) introduced the concept of generational accounting, a method of determining how the burden of fiscal policy falls on different generations. It found that U.S. fiscal policy is out of balance in terms of projected generational burdens. This means that either current generations will bear a larger share (than we project under current law) of the burden of the government’s spending, or that future generations will have to pay, on average, at least 21 percent more on a growth-adjusted basis than will those generations who have just been born.

These conclusions were based on relatively optimistic assumptions about the path of Social Security and Medicare policies, namely that the accumulation of a Social Security trust fund would continue and that Medicare costs would not rise as a share of GNP. In this paper, we simulate the effects of realistic alternative paths for Social Security and Medicare. Our results suggest that such alternative policies could greatly increase the imbalance in generational policy, making not only future generations pay significantly more, but current young Americans as well. For example, continued expansion of Medicare in this decade alone could double the 21-percent imbalance figure if its bill is shifted primarily to future generations.

Suggested Citation

Auerbach, Alan, Jagadeesh Gokhale, and Laurence Kotlikoff. 1992. “Social Security and Medicare Policy from the Perspective of General Accounting.” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Working Paper No. 92-06.