Nearly four decades of half-truths have finally caught up with Social Security. The system is as sound today as it has ever been, but Social Security Administration officials are trying to convince a suddenly skeptical public that the program is not on the edge of bankruptcy. They are having a hard time because for so many years boosters pretended that Social Security is an insurance plan.

The immediate source of concern is the Social Security trust fund, which in the popular mind has become analogous to the reserves insurance companies set aside...

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