Thursday, July 14, 2005

Early Retirement and Morality

Friend and fellow parishioner from Detroit days Chuck Kleber calls to my attention an editorial column by John Tierney titled The Old and the Rested that appeared in the June 14, 2005 issue of the New York Times.

Tierney’s main point is that people ought to work longer – a part of the Social Security debate that he refers to as the “elephant in the room,” something favored by liberals and conservatives alike, but that every politician is terrified to mention.

Tierney argues that there are lots of healthy and vigorous seniors and their working longer would be good for the economy, creating wealth and tax revenue.

He also quotes a 57-year old schoolteacher contemplating alternatives to retirement as saying “It's not healthy for you to stop working if you're still able.” My way of saying that is “Idleness is bad for your health.”

Implied but not mentioned in the column is that extending the retirement age to, say, 70 would fix both Social Security and Medicare for quite awhile.

I would mention a fourth reason, which has to do with the morality of spending long years of good health in retirement.

Regardless of how retirement is funded, retired people are supported by the employed population. The goods and services consumed during retirement, such as food, clothing, transportation, health care, and entertainment, are being produced by people who spend their days working.

My grandfather was a farmer before the time of modern farm equipment. When he reached the age of 65 his body was pretty well worn out. He had a right at that age to live off of the efforts of the working population as had his father at that age. As Tierney points out, most people nowadays are in no way worn out at that age and have lots of good working years left in them.

Tierney likes the concept of personal retirement accounts as it as been implemented in Chile. He claims it has induced people to work longer.

He may or may not be right about that. But, either way, the notion of working longer needs to be discussed. 65 as the pensionable age was conceived by Otto von Bismark more than a century ago. It is time – even past time – to re-evaluate it.

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