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The Social Security Solution
As children, our currency was points � whether we played baseball, crazy eights, monopoly, video or other games, the kid with the most points not only won, but also achieved the highest status.

Everybody knew who the big point-scorers were. Remember �choosing-up teams?�  Captains would

select their players based on past performance. Pity the poor nerd who knew his or her own track record understanding they�d be chosen last.

The same kind of competition has followed us into adulthood. Certainly low-scoring golfers don�t want to play with-high scoring golfers. And high-scoring tennis enthusiasts don�t care to play with low-scoring players.

But there�s a new point system in which we now compete.  It�s modern, dynamic � and it doesn�t require exercise.

The new system was developed by marketing professionals who wish to capture our attention�or a share of our wallets.

Now we can win points for shopping at certain stores, for reading e-mails, for staying at hotel chains, for using our credit cards and, of course, for flying on most airlines.

The genesis of this phenomenon started years ago when people collected �green stamps� with purchases.  You could see, feel, and even smell the gluey adhesive!

In our home, it was a monthly tradition to sit at the kitchen table with Mom, licking those valuable stamps and sticking them into books.

But green stamps, the predecessor of points, were eaten by that massive, wirey, omnipotent creature called the Internet. And they morphed into points.

In the belly of the Internet, you can watch your Frequent Flyer Points accrue.

You can spend Bonus Points earned for reading advertisers� emails.

You can gaze at your Hotel Guest Points and dream about your next vacation.

You can log on to your credit card accounts to check your Rewards Points Balances.

Points! Points! Points!

An associate called me the other day and proudly announced, �I�m only 150,000 points away from Million Point Elite Status!

�That�s terrific,� I replied, fully understanding the translation: �I�m winning. I�ve scored more points than you!�

After a brief chat about his soon-to-be-earned entitlements, I wondered how many points I had in my portfolio. So I made a list of the programs in which I�d enrolled.  Or at least, I made a list of the programs in which I remembered I�d enrolled.

I gathered my monthly and quarterly statements for credit cards, frequent flyer programs and others. There were 6 sheets of paper in front of me, including the page upon which I made my list.  But there were 13 programs on the list!

�Where are the 8 missing statements,� I mused? I looked everywhere including the drawer where I keep my unpaid bills, the folder containing my paid bills, my bookcase, and the stack I keep of �things to read.�  I even looked under my bed and couch and, just in case, I searched through every cabinet in my kitchen. There wasn�t a �points� statement to be found.

Suddenly, a bolt of inspiration struck.  It should have been my obvious first choice.

Without pause, I logged on to the supermarket site I use to order my groceries.  I�d remembered seeing my point balance when I got to the final �checkout� page.  I searched under �My Account� and clicked �checkout� only to find there was nothing in my �basket.�  There was no mention of points. I surfed the site like never before, but there was no place to find how many points I�d scored.

I called the store from which my deliveries come but nobody, from the clerk who answered my call to the store manager, knew what I was talking about.  Management failed to tell its staff about its points program.

Hmmm!  If I can�t find my points, how will I be able to spend them?

It was too early to develop a conspiracy theory and somehow, I knew the answers lurked somewhere on the Internet.

I pointed my browsers to American Airlines� web site, remembering I�d flown the carrier often, but no statement had been mailed to me for quite some time. Accessing the airline�s �AAdvantages� page, I was prompted for my username and password.  Geez, if I�d been issued a username and password I sure didn�t remember them. So I clicked �forgot your password,� entered my email address and discovered I wasn�t in the database. I could have called, but I couldn�t bear the thought of waiting on �hold� for 20 minutes listening to a recording tell me how important my call is to American Airlines.

So those, and countless, other earned points are doomed. Unclaimed. Useless to me (unless I resolve to spend endless hours hunting for my points).

What about you?  Can you put a finger on all the points you’ve accumulated over the years?  Know where they’re all hidden?

Neither do I. 

Now here’s the big idea. America�s Social Security system�s in trouble. There are a kazillion unclaimed points floating around someplace out there.  Congress should consider a bill to levy our unclaimed accumulated points and use them to solve the entire Social Security dilemma. 

Congress would write the requisite for 100,000 pages of legislation defining what constitutes an unclaimed point, time limits for entities holding points for redemption to report their unclaimed status and penalties for companies that don�t transfer points to the newly established Federal Bonus Point Reserve.

They’re our points.  We earned them.  And we can’t let America�s Social Security system go bust.  Write your congressman.  Get the point?

Do you have a solution to the social security dilemma � or a new use for the bonus points you can�t find? Let me know. Call me at 212.696.1200.  

Mark S. Levit