"Unfortunately, pension plans are an easy place to defer spending to balance the government budget," says Elwood Hillis, a former congressman from of Indiana.

That's because the career pol who wants to look good during an election cycle often uses the oldest trick in the book: He or she passes the problem to the next administration.

Still, is the problem that there are not enough government health care and pension benefits or that there are too many? Or possibly it is something more profound? Could it be an issue that Lowenstein never touches on? Could it be culture?

Americans are not only living longer than their forebears, but living very differently today than Americans who set record saving levels generations ago. They today expect more and more of the government than their grandparents did. Yet the more government we get, the more we tend to want. We often lack the spirit of thrift that once led the typical American to consume less, save much more and work much longer.

Still, if we accept Lowenstein's premise, that health care must be financed by the federal government and that government should do more to force or encourage Americans to save, then we will consciously be going away from traditional American individualistic values. We will be moving toward a socialization of savings and health services.

Let it be stated clearly that we will turn more and more to the state because we can't do it for ourselves. But let us remember that we have already traveled far down what one socialist critic, F.A. Hayek, called "the road to serfdom."

And let us remember that we have already had more than 40 years of Medicare, and that program is in trouble. Also in trouble is the Social Security Trust Fund-a fund deemed fraudulent because it has no tangible assets. However Lowenstein says the latter crisis has been exaggerated (on Page 230). Actually, I believe he is partly right. Sure, the fund can pay its recipients now. So there is no immediate crisis.

But it is financed by a regressive payroll tax that is the biggest tax paid in many American households, and unless we are prepared to keep raising this big tax-one that has been hiked dozens of times over the past few decades-there will be another crisis. And it will be followed by the usual bipartisan solution: raising payroll taxes. Incidentally, Lowenstein advocates higher payroll taxes (Page 231).

I'm not sure anyone in the short term has the solution to America's looming pension fund crisis. I believe the long-term answer is partly in changing the consumption-at-all-costs culture and helping Americans understand how to benefit from a defined contribution system. Still, culture doesn't change overnight.

The ultimate answers may include more favorable tax treatment of savings. The might also mean more available health savings plans and greater use of the 401(k) plans that Lowenstein maligns.