June 14, 2005
Eat The Old
You know what? I want to work forever.
No, I mean it.
I want to be 93, with big coke-bottle glasses and an out of style suit (because, come age 93, I don't expect to give a fuck), striding into my office. Okay -- at 93, I probably won't stride much, but I'll do the best I can. And I want to greet my many young colleagues, make old Jewish guy jokes as I wind my way to my desk, sit down at my holographic laptop (which will now be a hopeless relic compared to the Cornea Computers others will use), and blog for a bit. Then I'll work the phones for awhile, trying to figure out what my next column will be. Then I'll blog a bit more. Work phones. Have lunch with somebody interesting. Go out with my wife to dinner. Etc.
Yes, I want to work forever because what I want to do sounds like it'll be fun forever. Maybe it won't be, of course, but David Broder is nearing 130 and he's still at it, so there seems to be a chance. Now. I would really not like to work forever if I was a tailor. I wouldn't not enjoy trudging into the office each morning and, at 93, bending down to hem pants. I would not enjoy standing up all day to adjust the merchandise. I would much rather be sitting at home, acting the dirty old man towards my wife.
John Tierney, because he does the first job, has written a column addressed to all those lazy asses doing the second. Those malingerers and loiterers who're checking out at 62, collecting reduced Social Security benefits, and hanging out with the grandkids. And John Tierney, as with all the columnists who offer this suggestion, is tough for doing it. He's taking on a sacred cow, saying what pols fear to say, going where lesser men wilt, speaking the hard truths to AARP's power.
Raising the retirement age is the most offensive serious public policy suggestion in American life. What it says about us as a culture, what it says about our chattering class -- it's just embarassing. It'd be one thing if Social Security really were bankrupting this country, if its costs stretched into the stratosphere and the poor American economy was being crushed under its weight, an Atlas without the quads. But it's just not so. What's needed to keep Social Security safe and solvent is so minor as to be laughable. Indeed, it's so minor that, with some good productivity growth, we'll never need to do it at all. But rather than advocate that, our chattering classes immediately reach for the nearest blunt object and begin clubbing the working class. So what if they need to work 8 more years at an unpleasant job? Why're they being so lazy? I'm going to be working when I'm 75, what's wrong with them!?
Well, nothing. It's not what's wrong with them, it's what's different about our chattering class. The folks retiring at 62 aren't Times op-ed columnists. Neither are they my father, a mathematician with a deep and abiding affection for hanging out at his office. Nor are they Senators (as Bob Dole said, "Inside work, no heavy lifting", or as Strom Thurmond noted, "What? Speak up, I can't hear you!"). They're folks who've worked at jobs they don't like for 45 years and want to stop. Prioritizing the repeal of the estate tax above letting the working class escape little-liked occupations while they still have healthy years to enjoy the time off wouldn't just be bad policy, it'd be wholly immoral. And so John Tierney, no matter how many "truth to power" points he gets for calling retirees lazy and indigent, should be punished for this column. He thinks Americans aren't getting more lazy, they're just being tricked into it by a pension system that encourages sloth and lolling. Next time he tries to write it, we should make him prove it. For each year he wants to raise the retirement age by, he has to spend 365 days as a short-order cook. On the last day, we can ask him if he'd like to retire from the profession despite his young age.
What do you think he'll say?
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Tracked on Jun 14, 2005 11:46:53 PM
Oh, you forgot to add "health problems" in things Tierney needs to factor into his analysis.
Sometimes, people need to retire b/c it is simply not feasible for them to work, day in and day out in an (potentially) physically arduous job.
You know what's remarkable to me: all these people talking about how they know how "real Americans" think and never bothering to see precisely how they live.
Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | Jun 14, 2005 1:05:56 PM
Old people may have the most sympathetic claim on the fisc of any group. Then again, maybe they don't. Like everyone else, they should have to prove it. Just step up and state your claim.
Means testing and nudging up the retirement age may be trojan horses put forth by those who would dismantle this overwhelmingly popular program, but that doesn't make them too horrible of ideas, in themselves.
We have a lot of young people in this country whose lives are pretty grim. Smallish adjustments in the nature of government wealth transfers may help them a lot. Maybe we have enough cash to help the young poor and not touch SS, but plenty of worthy programs go unfunded each year and a big piece of the fiscal picture shouln't just be assumed because we have a fondness for old folks.
Reasonable changes in the funding and administration of SS should at least be entertained until we reach that promised land of rescource plenty.
Maybe Tierney is a clown. I am happy to beleive that he is, or is not. Whatever. We should still try to minimize the number of sacred cows sucking on the public teet.
Posted by: Neil Paul | Jun 14, 2005 1:51:58 PM
Short-order cook? I want Tierney to get through a day down a coal mine. Fuckwit.
Posted by: ahem | Jun 14, 2005 2:32:25 PM
Neil Paul: We should still try to minimize the number of sacred cows sucking on the public teet [sic]. [emphasis added]
This is the Repub attitude toward Social Security in one sentence. And it is BushCo's short range objective: make social security into a welfare program for the poor. Their long range objective remains the same as it was in the mid-1930's: eliminate social security.
Yep, those ol folks are stealing from the young and living the high life (with Social Security incomes usually well less than $25,000. a year, but that is far too much considering the 8.5% a year they have contributed their entire working life.)
Tierney isn't the only clown around. Right here in Ezraville is the guy that drives the clown car with 25 other rightwing clowns aboard.
Does Tierney have parents who worked for a living?
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 14, 2005 2:32:46 PM
Neil, it doesn't have to be an either/or-- either the elderly get help or the young get help. That's a ticket to discord. This is a rich country, and we can make sure that the young have education and opportunity and also that the elderly don't have to be working as nurse's aides and grocery baggers when their bodies have been broken by 45 years of manual work.
Social Security is separately funded. It's the 'phase-outers" who want us to think that our grandparents getting to lay down their tools and relax in their 70s is unfair to younger people. In fact, programs for young people (like educational loans) are being underfunded because the rich are getting big tax cuts-- and the rich don't need and don't care about Social Security.
What younger people need to remember is-- before there was social security, elderly people often depended on their children and grandchildren for financial support. That was when the real problem came up-- "shoes for my kids, or my grandmother's prescription?" And that's what's going to happen again if Social Security is cut back, because let's face it. Few of us are going to let our elderly relatives live in terrible poverty.
So Social Security protects the assets of the young and middle-aged as well as providing a modest life for the elderly.
Posted by: ana | Jun 14, 2005 2:35:52 PM
The Republican Party: We'll work our grandparents into the grave rather than raise taxes on the rich!
Posted by: Drew | Jun 14, 2005 2:55:42 PM
Except you won't be working the phones. You'll have had a microphone implanted into your teeth and a speaker into your inner ear, which will communicate via bluetooth 6.0 with the actual receiver that's sewn into your jacket. Real Metal Gear Solid stuff.
Posted by: Nick Beaudrot | Jun 14, 2005 3:16:48 PM
I mentioned in my post that we may have enough money to fund it all. Still we don't fund it all.
Jim in Portland Oregon,
my last sentence was a bit of a throw away line. If you want to have a program to allow people to retire at 65 and do ok, then that seems reasonable. It just should be justified in terms of everything else we don't spend money on at the same time. Just like other spending programs. Just like tax cuts or increases. My problem is not people recieving Social Security, my problem is that it is a sacred cow and Head Start, to name but one program, is not. Just as a host of other programs are not. Every program should be justified on its merits, on an ongoing basis, as circumstances change.
Social Security, as it exists enjoys broad support, and maybe it should. As I noted in my original post, I am aware that many proponents of change are trying to dismantle the program piecmeal, using a divide and conquer strategy. That does still not mean that any changes must be a part of such a scheme or that possible use of such tactics by some should forclose a discussion of adjustments among those who wish to see tax revues of all types spent in a different way.
Your characterization of me is probably correct. It still remains true that many retirees live very well based on their savings during their blessed lives that they got to live in this country as priveleged high income earners. Others never get there because of grinding poverty or other hindrances. Just keeping Social Security wildly popular and uncontroversial is not necessarily a good enough reason to move money from the latter to the former indefinitely.
Posted by: Neil Paul | Jun 14, 2005 3:34:40 PM
"David Broder is nearing 130 and he's still at it"
Not to mention the coin he makes breakin' it down turtle-guy style on those Six Flags commercials. Who knew the guy who practically invented the Charleston could still shake it?
The jobs that people hate and want to quit as soon as possible are going to pay so little in the future that people will never be able to retire from them at age 65 and live 30 to 50 years. Or, alternatively, you could just learn to fix your own f*cking plumbing, taking 2 months off your longevity but saving $75,000 over the life of your house.
Posted by: diddy | Jun 14, 2005 3:41:23 PM
Lots of folks retire early because they can no longer get hired. Ageism in the workplace is a real problem, another elephant in the living room, and it drives people into early retirement and early use of their Social Security benefits.
There is a great post on this over at Time Goes By.
Posted by: Dennis | Jun 14, 2005 4:33:45 PM
One quibble. The social security crisis is absolutely, 100% nonexistant. Everybody is just using Chicken Little projections.
Other than that, LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!
Posted by: ItAintEazy | Jun 14, 2005 5:26:46 PM
Just because suggestions for "reforming" Social Security are sometimes dismissed in a cursory way doesn't mean that they wouldn't also be dismissed if examined closely too. A good example is "means testing".
First of all, SS is already "means-tested", due to three inflections in the benefit curve which tamp down the gains in benefits as a worker's wages rise; moreover, benefits are taxable, at least partially, further eroding the end benefit of the high earner.
Means testing, as envisioned by its proponents, would also add to the cost of the program. Right now, SS executes millions of transactions per year for about .3% overhead. I know of no other pension or insurance program that operates on such a low overhead. Adding parameters at disbursement time would increase its overhead.
Finally, means testing at retirement would turn the program into that most desired of right-wing targets: a welfare program or program for the needy.
Posted by: Lewis Carroll | Jun 14, 2005 6:27:49 PM
"Just keeping Social Security wildly popular and uncontroversial is not necessarily a good enough reason to move money from the latter to the former indefinitely."
Also, in all your mighty 'reasonableness' and 'rationality' lurks a coolness of heart that betrays a lack of experience and imagination. While this will hopefully change in time, right now I pity you.
Posted by: ed | Jun 14, 2005 6:30:19 PM
Yeah, and why should people have to work until 62 in the acid mines in order to recieve social security benefits in the first place? Why not lower the retirement age to 60, or 55, or 45? Are you some kind of repub monster, Ezra?
I say if someone doesn't enjoy their job then they should be able to retire after the "one year rule" you put forward has been fulfilled (for each year a person has to work before they retire, a politician has to be ready to work one year in that job). Why should a person have to spend the prime of their life scoopin' fecal matter if the suits aren't willing to do that job?
I hope that one is registering on your sarcasmatron. The point is not that the elderly are now "lazier" or don't deserve to retire. It's just that why stick with an arbitrary age of 62, when the time at which that age was set (a time when 62 was an age of advanced senescence) is much differnet than now (when people are stillvery active at 62). The important thing to remember is that 62 is an arbitrary number. It. Is. Not. Sacred. Why not change with the changing times, say, an adjustment to take into effect increased lifespans and better health?
Posted by: Grant R. | Jun 14, 2005 9:17:09 PM
ana-Few of us are going to let our elderly relatives live in terrible poverty.
Yes, few of us would do that. But years ago there were old people living or dying in abject poverty because they had no family or no family who would support them.
Posted by: mpower1952 | Jun 14, 2005 9:17:24 PM
It seems like only yesterday that old people were selfish for refusing to retire and get out of the way of young people comin' up. Now they are selfish for retiring.
But okay, let's play their silly game: Old people get all the jobs, and we can let all the little Republicans find other things to do - like be soldiers in Iraq and Iran and Korea and....
Posted by: Avedon | Jun 14, 2005 9:41:18 PM
Grant -- what you're argument doesn't do is explain why we should raise the age. Because we live longer? Good, we're also a more productive, richser society than we were then. Why penalize folks for life spans? And you do realize that the earlier you retire, the smaller your benefits, right? Of course you did.
So yes, congratulations, you've figured out thyat 62 is somewhat arbitrary. I've made an argument against raising it. Where's your counter? If 62 is arbitrary, than why should longer lifespans matter, particularly when the program is completely feasible on a financial level?
Posted by: Ezra | Jun 15, 2005 2:27:00 AM
Increased lifespans is pretty much a myth. It's increased by a few years, but not as much as the avg. lifespan would let you believe. Decreased losses at birth/young age, and better medical (and crisis) technology increases that among all age groups.
And allowing you to live with a bad ticker for one/two more years isn't going to allow your body to work any longer down in the mines/factory/whatever.
You know it's a new generation when instead of high-tech being refered to as James Bond, you think of Solid Snake....
What a lot of people on the right don't realize, for us, it's not a matter of ideology. It's a matter of basic morality, combined with best use and utility. Project much? Most people work hard. Really hard. And they deserve some rest before their end. It becomes harder and harder to do that stuff. Can't you have any compassion? No, that's too much to do. Because the right-wing in America is a bunch of fuck-wits who believe that sacrifice is for the other guy, and not fo rthem.
Posted by: Karmakin | Jun 15, 2005 10:15:06 AM
I was merely pointing out that the logic you used in your original post (that people shouldn't have to work beyond 62 if they don't "like" their jobs) was pretty simplistic and, I think, wrong.
Now, in your response to me, you've added the more defensible assertion that our increased productivity counteracts the increased age that retirees live to, and so is possible grounds for maintaining the current age. But mightn't our increased productivity mean the opposite, that people should be able to better allow for their retirements on their own? That our society is richer and more productive is a positive statement, with no necessary normative follow-through.
Also, I don't see how raising the retirement age is "penalizing" people for longer lifespans.
That a program is "feasible" on a financial level is irrelevant. Any program is feasible if you tax enough. Tierney mentions that we shouldn't make struggling families pay for the active lifestyles of the 62 year-old "elderly." Financial solvency is irrelevant to whether someone should have to help finance another person's retirement, when that other person is perfectly capable of working. This isn't to say that people can't retire at 62, or any age before or thereafter. Just that I, and others trying to get ready for OUR retirements, shouldn't have to help.
I'm all for "dignified decline." But 62 is no longer the start of such a decline. And this age is only going to get later and later. Google "Engineered Negligible Senescence." We need a change now, or in the very near future.
Posted by: Grant R | Jun 15, 2005 5:45:53 PM
rotflmao for the first graphs, and enjoyed the solid analysis.
back in the day, for the folks my parents' age (they're in their mid-70s), if you worked a factory job, you got out after 40 years and a decent pension and enjoyed the last years of your life. help out with the grandkids, see national parks, etc.
but for physically less demanding jobs, go out in a coffin.
iirc, many college professors, after they retire, often keep office space so students can come in and shoot the fat and chew the breeze -- or something like that -- and just to keep busy.
Posted by: harry near indy | Jun 15, 2005 7:45:57 PM
Posted by: peter.w | Sep 16, 2007 10:03:25 PM
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