For Americans who follow our own old-age social benefits systems, this problem will seem quite familiar. Although the US regime is not in as dire fiscal straits as the French one, the US’s federal government nonetheless faces huge and growing obligations to current and future pensioners. This will only grow more urgent as the population continues to age and as the numbers of prime-age workers stagnates.
Indeed, the Social Security scheme is an excellent example of how government programs, once established, gradually become far more costly—in real per capita terms, not just aggregate terms—as time goes by. Many recipients now spend decades collecting benefits on a program that had been sold as a program only for people who were too old, exhausted, and injured to work at all. Meanwhile, fewer and fewer workers are called upon to foot the inflated bill.
At the center of this mission creep for Social Security is the fact that Social Security benefits originally began at age 65. Yet, at that same time, the life expectancy at birth was below 65. (It’s much higher now.) Many people lived well past 60 back then, of course, but not nearly as many as do today. In other words, a far smaller fraction of the work force collected Social Security, and for a shorter period. Today, however, more workers live long enough to collect Social Security, and they now receive payments for longer. That’s a sure way to inflate the cost to taxpayers of old-age benefits. (It’s also a sure way to encourage able-bodied workers to leave the workforce, thus tilting the economy more toward consumption rather than production.)
Even if we ignore the moral problems presented by transferring huge amounts of income from current workers to pensioners, the realities of demographics in the twenty-first century mean the minimum “retirement age” should really be at least 75. Too long has a shrinking pool of workers been forced to fund pensioners who start collecting government benefits in their 60s and can now expect to be on the dole for 20 years or more. Moreover, this phenomenon is growing. Social Security increasingly forces today’s workers to shoulder an ever-greater burden on their ability to earn a living and support their families. The days of subsidized extended vacations for able-bodied 65-year olds must come to an end, but until that day comes, the damage can at least be limited by raising the age of eligibility.
Sent from Diem (Richard) Nguyen iPhone