Comments on the Presentation:

"Saving Social Security"
by Peter A. Diamond, Ph.D.

H. William Batt



[Notes taken at the Henry George Fall 2005 Lecture, University of Scranton, 13 October. Reprinted from GroundSwell, January-February 2006]


The 20th Annual Henry George Lecture and John Kelly Dinner took place on October 13, 2005, the speaker being Professor of Economics Peter A. Diamond of MIT. As is the common practice, Professor Diamond spent the day in Scranton, talking with the Omicron Delta Epsilon Economics Honor Society and the assembled interested faculty members. In addition, several board representatives of the Schalkenbach Foundation were present on account of the origin of the lecture series, an initial bequest in the early 1980s to the University in the name of Henry George. This year, the Foundation was represented by Wyn Achenbaum, Bill Batt and, of course, Scranton U. Resident Professor Hong Nguyen. Vye Kelly, the widow of former Board member Jack Kelly, was again present as always. Professor Diamond proved to be an adept and accessible guest, and began his presentation by not only acknowledging George but called special attention to Progress and Poverty's dedication:

To those who, seeing the vice and misery that spring from the unequal distribution of wealth and privilege, feel the possibility of a higher social state and would strive for its attainment.

The evening lecture was on the subject of Professor Diamond's current focus of attention, "Saving Social Security." Much of the debate about the circumstances and future of Social Security involve forecasting assumptions of a statistical nature. It is therefore appropriate that Professor Diamond, who has an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Yale and is now deeply involved in econometric instruments, should have taken on this challenge. His publications on these matters have numbered in the dozens, and his CV suggests that he has been interested in these questions for the past three decades. It was certainly helpful to listen to Professor Diamond lay out the mathematical trends that lead people, accurately or not, to debate the future of this venerable program.

It would not do the speaker justice to attempt to summarize his presentation and argument more than to say that only modest tweaking is necessary to insure the continued success of the American Social Security System well into the future. The colored graphics on which the presentation depended were brushed through quickly as Dr. Diamond spoke, and only by reading the material closely might those with greater interest have succeeded in understanding all that was offered. Nonetheless, the assembled students and guests from the community of Scranton - perhaps a few hundred in number - certainly came away with enough understanding of the issues that their anxieties could be allayed.

Professor Diamond showed himself to be an adept econometrician and an able speaker and writer. His biography shows him to be at the very top of his discipline several times over: an endowed chair at MIT, past president of the American Economics Association and several other academic organizations, a long record of publications and consultancies, several awards, and so on. His focus however was much more on the mathematics of the Social Security system than upon any considerations of social justice.

Henry George's concern was less mathematics but social justice, and his conceptual ability is what marks him as a seminal thinker and gives his ideas lasting value. But the rise in the availability of statistical data, as well as the growth in the power of computers to make a persuasive case for the Georgist agenda, suggests that our movement also needs its econometricians. We should hope that before too long we will have among our members analysts with the facility to explain ideas statistically as well as Professor Diamond could.




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