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Longer lifespans = higher retirement ages 2010-Nov-15 at 01:02 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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When the Social Security Act was first passed in 1935, the average life expectancy in the United States was 61 years.  Today, average life expectancy in the U.S. is 79 and continuing to grow.  The Social Security Act never envisioned an average life span this high, and yet we’re still living off of age ranges from the world before World War II.

So it comes as a surprise to me that the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the bipartisan committee that President Obama has appointed to look at ways to address the federal deficit and debt, has suggested that we raise the retirement age for full Social Security benefits to 68 by 2050, and 69 by 2075.

It surprises me not because it’s too shocking, but because it’s far too tame.  Unfortunately, the short-sighted reactions came swiftly.

From Panel Seeks Social Security Cuts and Higher Taxes, by Jackie Calmes, 10-Nov-2010:

Liberal groups immediately condemned the plan when news of it broke, for its Social Security and Medicare changes and for the scope of the spending cuts. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in a statement called it “simply unacceptable.”

The furor on the left was not matched — yet — by a similar outcry from the right to the draft’s proposed revenue increases, cuts to the military or other options.  [This outcry came the next day. – Scott]

The plan has many elements with the potential to draw intense political fire. It lays out options for overhauling the tax code that include limiting or eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. It envisions cutting Pentagon weapons programs and paring back almost all domestic programs.

By 2050, we can expect the average human life span in the United States to be at least 120 years, and probably closer to 150.  Wouldn’t it make sense to leave Social Security only for the time when the vast majority of Americans are too old and infirm to continue to work?  Given the advances in medical technology we’ll see in the next 20 years, and then in the 20 years after that, we won’t see poor health, in general, until far later than we do now.

The only reasonable solution to our overburdened Social Security system is to index the retirement age to increases in longevity.  Although the Commission proposes exactly this, it follows that up with the 68 and 69 numbers.  I have no idea what projections they’ve looked at in terms of life span, but I’m damn sure they’re far too pessimistic.  Of course, we’ll quickly have more retirees than workers paying taxes to support them if we don’t raise the retirement age for Social Security significantly.

Just as we index benefits based on inflation, and we make cost of living adjustments annually, we need to make retirement age adjustments annually based on average life span, which will continue to grow.  Will we have the political foresight to pull that off?  Not until we have far more Integral politicians running things….

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“He was going to go down fighting.” 2010-May-23 at 08:07 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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Specter Legacy Is Study of the Perils of a Switch, by Katharine Q. Seelye, 22-May-2010

At the time, Mr. Specter said candidly that he could not win re-election in a Republican primary because his party had moved to the right.

“I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate, not prepared to have that record decided by that jury,” he said.

And so we have the ungraceful end of an over 40-year career in the Senate.  And it took us watching the slow-motion train-wreck of a transparent and desperate switch in political parties, followed by a bitter and cynical primary fight, to get to the end of it.

Is the United States demonstrably better for having people in office for over four decades?  Haven’t we seen, over and over, the machinations of those who seek re-election more than they seek to improve the way this nation is governed?

Now, imagine with me a world with congressional term limits.  Imagine a world where this kind of pathetic sight didn’t happen.  Imagine the simple, graceful turnover of congressional seats, election after election, as roughly 1/6th of Congress would be an open seat.  Imagine the new perspectives coming in, every two years.  Imagine the old guard, giving their advice about survival and “how things work in Washington” to newer members who never intended to do things that way in the first place, and then imagine the newer members politely humoring the older ones and then doing what they think is right anyway.  And imagine the old guard, no doubt still in Congress from grandfather clauses in the term limits amendment that exempt current members (the only way we’d get one), finally leaving in confusion about “the way these new people act around here”, or actually just waiting to die in office.

Imagine the day when the very last senator still serving under that grandfather clause leaves, and every single member of Congress will serve no more than twelve years: two terms in the Senate, or six terms in the House.

Imagine the kind of bold, imaginative legislation we’ll get when that happens… far less influenced by special interests or lobbying.  Younger, more energetic, more in tune with what we need at any given time.

And imagine when the average human life span grows past 100 years… and then past 120 years… and then past 150 years… all of which is coming in the 21st Century, and realize how important it is to get term limits into place as soon as possible.  If we don’t, we’ll see the first senator to serve 100 years in the Senate during the 21st Century, and that’s not a good thing, from where I sit.

And imagine when we won’t ever again hear lines like:

“Maybe there comes a time when people think, ‘Should I run anymore — is there a time to bow out gracefully?’ ” Mr. Harkin said. “But that’s not Arlen’s style. He’s a fighter. And he was going to go down fighting.”

That’s a day to look forward to.