Question: President Clinton declared in his recent State of the Union address that, over the next 15 years, he wants the government to invest a quarter of the Social Security trust fund in the stock market. Is this good policy?Josette Shiner: Under President Clinton's plan, the government would be funneling almost $700 billion into the stock market, becoming perhaps its most powerful investor. If you thought the administration's nationalized health-care plan was bad, just compare it to a nationalized stock market. Clinton's plan grants bureaucrats at the Treasury Department (or some other "neutral" body) the power not only to invest in public companies but to squash them. Would the government engage in socially conscious investing? Favor companies with strong affirmative action programs? Shun gun manufacturers and tobacco companies? Jesse Jackson, under revealing questioning by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer recently, made it clear he would put pressure on the government to do just that. Rather than suing Exxon, Philip Morris or Microsoft, the federal government could simply punish them by buying stock in their competitors. Obviously, $700 billion goes a long way. In this case, it would go a long way toward sparking economic and political upheaval.

The good news is that people who know the most about Social Security and the economy are speaking up. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently testified that the White House plan is an "unworkable" and "very dangerous idea" that "could damage the economy"; my colleague Jack Kemp concurs that "the president has proposed a leveraged buy out of corporate America"; Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, calls the plan Social Security socialism, a "truly radical" and "dangerous" proposal, and Princeton economics professor Burton G. Malkiel said it "runs against the principles of free markets and could well interfere with the efficiency of the capital-allocation process."

Our Social Security system, despite its problems, is a gem in the American crown. Americans deserve a solvent Social Security system and a better return on their Social Security investment. We can, and must, provide the flexibility for some individual investment without creating undue risk.

Bonnie Erbe: I am truly surprised, on several fronts, by my colleague's reaction to President Clinton's plan. The first reason is that conservatives are most famous for vociferously attacking big government. And what is more "big government" than a federal pension plan with a highly confiscatory tax rate? So her belief that Social Security is "a gem in the American crown" breaks ranks with many of her philosophical ilk. So, too, does her opposition to investing Social Security funds in stocks.

I recently interviewed freshman Republican Judy Biggert of Illinois, a member of the Republican congressional task force that is negotiating Social Security reform with the White House. She campaigned for her House seat on what she calls the four No's: No cut in (Social Security) benefits, no means testing, no increase in Social Security taxes and no raising of the current retirement age. I asked her how she intended to accomplish all that and keep the system fiscally sound and she said with wiser free market investment of Social Security funds -- precisely the kind of investing the president is now proposing.

I am also surprised that my colleague rushes to judgment on the type of investments the government might make if there is bipartisan consensus on putting some Social Security funds in stocks. Just because the Rev. Jesse Jackson says the government should limit its investments to "socially responsible" companies does not mean the White House is going to go along with that. The Rev. Jackson clearly has the president's ear. But few of his pronouncements become law.

Finally, I do not see how investing a portion of Social Security funds in the stock market is an abandonment of "individual rights" nor "limited government." It merely is an attempt to improve the rate of return on Social Security funds. And there may be no Social Security reform at all if each White House or congressional proposal is shot down before it's even been given a serious look-see.

Erbe is host of the PBS program "To the Contrary." Josette Shiner is president of Empower America.