Accounting for social policy obligations has long confounded the preparers and users of governmental financial reports.The controversy currently surrounding the gargantuan obligations of the Social Security Administration is an example of the difficulties of dealing with long-term, big-number obligations of vaguely defined liability.

Such numbers can be hard to forecast and tricky to report in a politically charged environment. Questions of long-term liability relate to a wide variety of social benefits: old age pensions, unemployment insurance, welfare, health care, public education, disaster relief, subsidized housing, and arguably even such unquestionable obligations as public protection, the judicial system and national defense.

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