Thursday, March 31, 2016

Alstott Publishes Book on Social Security

Anne L. Alstott ’87, Jacquin D. Bierman Professor in Taxation, is the author of the newly released book A New Deal for Old Age: Toward a Progressive Retirement (Harvard University Press). In the book, Alstott argues that Social Security, which was created in the 1930s, marks a major achievement that is worth preserving but is out of step with the realities of work and aging today. The program promised a dignified old age for rich and poor alike, but today that egalitarian promise is failing. Alstott recommends a progressive change that would shift retirement age depending on a worker’s lifetime income and type of work. She also suggests a more equitable version of spousal benefits.

“The past 50 years have wrought a dramatic change in the experience of old age,” Alstott says. “As a group, older Americans live longer, enjoy better health, and pursue a variety of work and retirement options. But old age unfolds very differently for the poor than for the rich.”

In the book, Alstott maintains that the gap is more than a matter of money: lifetime low earners face shorter life spans, worse health, higher rates of disability, and worse job options. For example, American retirees in the top half of the earnings distribution now enjoy six more years of life than their peers in the bottom half, a gap that has widened with each successive generation.

“Growing inequality makes the Social Security safety net more important than ever, particularly for low earners, single parents, and contingent workers. But, ironically, this landmark progressive program now preserves or even worsens the widening gap in the experience of old age,” Alstott says. “Social Security is out of step with the changes that have revolutionized American life since the mid-twentieth century: women’s entry into the workforce, the divorce revolution, and the rise of single parenthood.”

She proposes that without thoughtful reform, the out-of-sync Social Security system will fail Americans who find themselves on the wrong side of the new inequality. Alstott urges progressives to stop treating Social Security as untouchable. She believes the program already contains the seeds of progressive reform: contrary to popular belief, reforms can maintain universal retirement security while also directing extra benefits to the worst-off.

In November, CCH published Alstott’s book Taxation in Six Concepts: A Student’s Guide. The book boils down the law of taxation to just six concepts—valuation, net income, realization, tax deferral, substance over form, and income-shifting—and uses them to unpack leading cases and real-world transactions.

Anne Alstott is an expert in taxation and social policy. She was named a professor at Yale Law School in 1997 and originally named the Jacquin D. Bierman Professor of Taxation in 2004. She served as deputy dean in 2002 and 2004 and has won the Yale Law Women teaching award three times. From 2008 to 2011, she was the Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. She returned to YLS in 2011. Her previous books include No Exit: What Parents Owe Children and What Society Owes Parents (Oxford University Press, 2004) and The Stakeholder Society (with Bruce Ackerman, Yale University Press, 1999). She holds an A.B., summa cum laude, in economics from Georgetown University and a J.D. from Yale Law School.