Retirement Age

RETIREMENT AGE….Will Saletan has a long, number-filled column today spelling out the reasons we should raise the retirement age for Social Security. I’m all in favor of numbers, but his don’t add up.

I don’t mean that literally. Tired as it is, his case makes sense on its own terms: people live longer than they did 60 years ago and are both physically and mentally active longer than they were 60 years ago. So why not work longer and retire later?

Answer: because we don’t want to. Sure, we could continue inexorably raising the retirement age, ensuring that no matter how much richer we get and no matter how many medical advances we make, we’re still working til we drop. We could do that, but we don’t want to. Most of us like the idea that we’ll have more years of “active retirement” (i.e., “free of chronic functional impairment”) than we did 60 years ago.

And guess what? We can. Federal spending today is about 20% of GDP. Eighty years from now, if we make no changes to Social Security at all, its costs will go up by about 2% of GDP. That’s easily affordable, especially since our economy will be far larger in 80 years than it is today.

Americans already work far more hours than any comparable nation on Earth, but for today’s obsessively Puritan conservatives that’s not enough. We must work ever more. But this isn’t solely an economic issue, it’s also an issue of social choice. And if, as a society, we choose to take advantage of our increasing wealth by enjoying longer retirements, that seems like a pretty good decision to me. 49 years is plenty for a working life. There’s no need to extend it further.