The Great Social Security Debate

Publication Date01 Mar 2009
AuthorDaniel Béland
SubjectThe 2008 US Election—Challenges for a New President
Daniel Béland
The great social
security debate
| International Journal | Winter 2008-09 | 115 |
Social security is the largest US federal program and the most enduring
legacy of the New Deal. The program has more than 50 million beneficiaries
and generates expenditures (US$585 billion in 2007) that are significantly
higher than the defence budget.1Known as the “third rail of American
politics” (“touch it an d die”), socia l security is a popular program, which
means that few politicians explicitly seek to dismantle it. Yet, because of the
demographic challenge ahead, some changes are necessary to fix the
anticipated long-term fiscal imbalance in social security. The current debate
on social security is about the nature of the changes necessary to solve the
long-term fiscal challenge stemming from demographic aging. This brief
article explores the debate on the future of social security, with a focus on
Daniel Béland is professor of public policy and sociology in the University of Saskatchewan’s
Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. In 2008, he was a fellow in the Canada
Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. His latest
book, coauthored with André Lecours, is Nationalism and Social Policy: The Politics of
Territorial Solidarity (Oxford University Press, 2008).
1 Emily Sherman, “Candidates ignoring coming social security crisis, critics say,” CNN,
23 October 2008,

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