Friday, November 12, 2010

Social Security: Lies You Accepted As Fact

Usually used in reference of how great modern times are, what with new technology and medicine, enlightened concepts of nutrition and personal hygiene, the old adage about how life expectancy has increased so much in the past century really grates my nerves . The statistic is skewed because of child mortality. People hundreds of years ago were just as able to live to a ripe old age as nowadays. Yet you'll often hear how back in the 1700s you'd be dead by the time you turned 50, or in "cave man" times, the number was 30 (invoked when talking about dental health and podiatry). But lately I've at least seen one mainstream acknowledgement of this skewing (which I didn't even know was actually a lot more comparable to modern times before a huge dip it took during the Industrial Revolution).

Sometimes it is used in a Mathusian sense, to explain the oncoming crisis of society having to take care of elderly now living many more years. And this is precisely where it starts to become less a mere annoyance and more a deliberate lie. Paul Krugman points this out in today's piece on the Budget Deficit Commission, which recommends raising the retirement age:

...working until you’re 69, which may sound doable for people with desk jobs, is a lot harder for the many Americans who still do physical labor.

But beyond that, the proposal seemingly ignores a crucial point: while average life expectancy is indeed rising, it’s doing so mainly for high earners, precisely the people who need Social Security least. Life expectancy in the bottom half of the income distribution has barely inched up over the past three decades. So the Bowles-Simpson proposal is basically saying that janitors should be forced to work longer because these days corporate lawyers live to a ripe old age.

Paul Krugman's full Op-Ed is here:

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