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

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….


Crowdsourcing for the U.S. Government 2010-Oct-02 at 14:17 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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Some smart person has actually created a website to get crowdsourced feedback on various challenges facing the United States Federal Government.

It’s at http://challenge.gov/.

Some of the challenges offer cash prizes for good solutions, too.

I like this whole idea.

A New START 2010-Sep-09 at 03:09 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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President Obama and President Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Prague, on April 8, 2010.  The treaty remains stuck, waiting for the U.S. Senate’s "advice and consent" to ratify it.  In the meantime, the previous START expired in 2009, and so, for the last nine months, we’ve had no visibility into Russia’s nuclear forces.

This remains important because, even though the U.S. and Russia are now allies, we’re still, by far, the two nations with the largest nuclear force, and keeping up an inspection regime between us remains the best way for both nations to stay up-to-date and accurate about our nuclear weapons.

From New START: Security Through 21st Century Verification, by Rose Gottemoeller:

In the 22 years since these first inspections occurred under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, on-site inspections have been a vital means of verifying compliance with arms control treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union, the post-Soviet successor states, and now the Russian Federation.

With the December 2009 expiration of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the United States is unable, for the first time in more than 20 years, to conduct nuclear arms inspections inside Russia.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which was signed April 8 and is before the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification, provides for a resumption of vital on-site inspections of Russian strategic nuclear facilities. There is no substitute for on-site inspections. They provide not only the “boots on the ground” presence to confirm Russian data declarations, thus helping to verify compliance with treaty obligations, but also insights into Russian strategic forces located at those facilities. Simply put, the United States is more secure and safer when our country is able to gain a better understanding of the Russian strategic arsenal.

Interestingly, what started as a contentious relationship warmed over the years into a healthy professional respect.

These baseline inspections began at the close of a very cold winter in Russia. U.S. inspectors often stood knee deep in snow while conducting three- to four-hour-long discussions with their Russian escorts on the nuances of inspection procedures. For many Russian and U.S. personnel, this was their first encounter with their counterparts from the other country, so initially the relationship was impersonal, formal, and sometimes adversarial. During the succeeding years of conducting START inspections, the demeanor on both sides developed into one of mutual respect as each side recognized that the other’s inspection team members or in-country escorts were doing their jobs with competence, professionalism, and fairness while ensuring the exercise of their full and reciprocal rights under the treaty.

Over the life of START, the atmosphere during inspections continued to improve. “It’s not personal, it’s about the treaty” became the mantra of the inspectors on both sides. Each side learned a great deal about the other’s strategic forces during those on-site inspections. Thus, both sides gained a strong body of knowledge and experience about conducting on-site inspections efficiently and effectively under START and the INF Treaty; they also learned how to improve on them.

We’re not nearly done with the threat of nuclear attack, particularly in terms of nuclear non-proliferation.  Keeping our two nations aligned in this regard remains a crucial piece of United States foreign policy, and a wonderful demonstration of the kind of International cooperation that eventually gets people to trust that it’s OK to give up a little bit of national sovereignty for a larger peace.