Economists tend to be suspicious of arguments that suggest that the government can make better decisions for people than they can make for themselves. At the same time, research by economists and psychologists suggests that individuals are subject to biases and errors of judgment in their decision making. And if government paternalism makes sense anywhere, then it is likely to be in the context of lifetime saving decisions. After all, we are not talking about deciding which kind of coffee to buy or what price to set for a product this month. There is no room for learning from your mistakes, there are no second chances, and the consequences of error are enormous. In life, you only get old once. The key arguments in favor of Social Security are therefore that it provides some insurance that may not be available through private markets and protects people in the face of their inability to make sound decisions when they are planning for the distant future. But just because there are some shortcomings of private insurance and annuity markets, we should not presume that government can do things better. Against the benefits of the Social Security system must also be set some costs. First, any government program requires resources to operate. It costs about 1 percent of the benefits paid to administer the Social Security system. This is a direct cost of the program. Second—and more interestingly in terms of economics—whenever we have a government scheme that affects the taxes that people pay, there will be some distortionary effects on people’s willingness to work. Taxes lower the relative price of leisure compared to consumption goods, which may induce people to work less. Because Social Security imposes a tax on the incomes of working people, it distorts their choices. This is another cost of the Social Security system. The Effect on National Savings There is another effect of Social Security that is much more subtle. It reduces the savings of the nation as a whole. This means less capital and ultimately lower living standards. The intuition is as follows. When individuals save, they make funds available in the financial markets for firms to borrow. Thus saving leads to investment and a buildup of the economy’s capital stock. But as we saw, Social Security reduces the individual incentive to save. People don’t need to save if the government will provide for them in retirement. Furthermore, the taxes being collected by the government are not being used to finance capital investment either; they are being paid out to old workers. A pay-as-you-go system thus tends to reduce overall national saving. In a fully funded Social Security system, this is not an issue, and indeed this is one of the most compelling arguments in favor of a gradual shift to a fully funded system.