Energy and Hope, and Private Accounts?

It is a time of new beginnings. We just had a Presidential Inauguration and the start of the spring semester at our campuses.
In the Middle East, their are new glimmers of hope: from the election in Iraq to new stirrings of Palestinian and Israeli cooperation.

No matter how you feel about President Bush and the 2004 election, it is time to rededicate ourselves to the issues which confront our community, our country, and the Jewish people.
My views on these issues are interconnected: I voted the way I did because of how I see the world and interpret the positions of the candidates, I look at problems facing our country through the lenses of our tradition, and I view events in the Middle East through my committments to safety and security for Israel balanced with concerns for justice, peace, and human dignity.

One of the largest issues in the news has been (the mostly Republican backed) proposals to privatize some aspects of Social Security through the use of Private Accounts. Those who know my interest in finance and investing probably believe that I support the privatization proposals. In some aspects you would be right--all things being equal, I am in favor of increased ownership of assets that you control. (On an aside, students with even a few extra dollars from savings or jobs should be starting a ROTH-IRA, but we can talk about that another time). Money invested in equities outpaces inflation in almost all long-term periods, especially when they compound tax-free. If it works, it would clearly be beneficial to individuals. The problem with privatization is that it does not address the current and future funding needs of the Social Security and the safety-net it provides for our society as a whole. To learn more about why, check out an investing column I read regularly.

I can't speak to all of the specifics but Social Security is not just a retirement program. It has directly helped two members of my family under the age of thirty. My brother Larry has received Social Security disability benefits for his having Fragile-X syndrome and a niece received some benefits when born prematurely. Judaism teaches that all Jews depend on one another (Babylonian Talmud Shavuot). Judaism also teaches that each person deserves dignity and respect. Providing a communal safety-net is no less important than providing dignified retirment. Our challenge is to find a way to balance financial responsibility, dignity and respect for parts of our community that need extra help, and to continue to have safety-net upon which we can all rely. Since many of you are college students, I am acutely aware of the concern that there still be a safety-net when you need it many years in the future.

My views on the role investing plays to promote inequalities or to help establish just societies have been influenced by an excellant one-day conference last year on Social Responsible Investing on Campus at Amherst and my interest in SRI in the Jewish community. Concerned Jews cannot leave their Jewish values aside when they save, spend, and invest.

At a time of new beginnings, let's work together to find a way to balance these competing and deserving needs.
I hope to focus more in the furue about Jewish values and sources that help me to understand this and related issues.
As usual, I welcome feedback and questions (either as comments on the site or through emails, calls, or one-on-one meetings).
Rabbi Bruce

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