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Craig West

Both Judge Posner and Professor Becker are overlooking the fact that lower income individuals--those who probably need social security the most--have not seen an increase in life expectancy. Numerous other bloggers have pointed out this fact as a counterargument to raising the retirement age.

Terry Bennett

Back in 2000, I was struck by a line in the stump speech of the Communist candidate, Mr. Gore, referring with his trademark earnest passion to "the basic right to a comfortable retirement." What was he smoking? There is no such right. The thinking of the American mainstream has been polluted with delusions like this, to the point that fairness is no longer a value or a concern in our culture.

If you were the only person on earth, you could retire when you had produced enough to last you the rest of your life. Does the fact that I am also here with you mean that I am suddenly somehow responsible to make up the difference for your bad choices so you can spend the next 20 years trout fishing while I produce the sustenance for both of us? I assert that it does not.

FDR and LBJ offered the deals, and generations accepted and have relied upon them, and we cannot go back on our promises now that these people are too old to make adjustments. However, it is immoral as well as foolish for us to keep offering the same deal we now offer, and forcing the unborn to pay for it. I recommend we freeze the current system for those already in it or entering it soon, and institute a government-insured compassionate disability system for people 35 and younger, wherein you work until (a) you die, (b) you get rich enough not to work, or (c) you become unable to work, at which point the government will provide you a subsistence living IF you cannot provide for yourself. This will not only be easily affordable, it will put the responsibilities where they belong - first on the individual, and then on the collective.


Terry, "Communist"? What does such Red Baiting have too do with the Public Debate on Social Security and Medicare? I thought we had matured to the point that such alcohol induced hullcinations died with Joe McCarthy and other members of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. If American Domestic Policy is inspired by "Commies" then it must also be inspired by the likes of "Fascist Pig Dogs". Remember, "The true mark of a Civilization is the way it treats it's young and old". Not too mention, whether we like it or not, "We are our brother's keeper". Which is the Hallmark of a Christian Civilization. I presume that we still are one of them...

Terry Bennett


Who says "Communist" is a dirty word? There are basically two ways of addressing the world: the "eat what you kill" approach (capitalism), or we can throw everything in a pot and let everybody eat from it (communism). All modern political systems are hybrids of both, and each has something to recommend it. Al Gore's positions lean heavily away from capitalism and toward communism; it's just who he is, and I think he should own it but once he does, it's by no means an insult to call him what he is, even though I disagree with him.

It seems I also disagree with you. I don't doubt that somebody once said that the true mark of a civilization is the way it treats its young and old, but I reserve the right to disagree with that person and that sentiment. Perhaps I do agree, but disagree with the judgment that Medicare and Social Security constitute treating the old well. We are certainly not treating the young well, putting them in hock up to their eyeballs before they're even born.

Finally, I do not see where Cain's rhetorical query to God was given a definitive answer in the text of Genesis. We may or may not be our brother's keeper. Besides, I'm a WASH (white Anglo-Saxon Hindu).


Terry, a WASP Hindu eh? Ever been to the back alleys of Calcutta or Bangalore? As for myself, I'll continue to adhere to my Christian Ethics and the Ten Commandments.


Two thoughts on this very provocative column.

First, as others have noted, life-expectancy has not changed equally for the various groups collecting SS. So, your proposal's attempt at basic fairness requires that it be based on a different number. (Parenthetically, there is some room for doubt that an individual's life expectancy itself has changed all that much, as opposed to improvements in public record keeping that determines a collective life expectancy.) In addition, until fairly recently, most social security recipients had not worked, hence contributed, for their entire working lives, and were paid by a different maximum benefit computation than the one used today. So the premise that we are currently overpaying retirees demands some complex documentation -- probably from the GAO.

Second, if SS' initial intent was to encourage older workers to move outside the workforce, and if the program is doing that even now, then the numbers in #1 above are absolutely critical to establishing the need to move the average retirement age up by 4 years. In reality the number may not be 4, but 6, or 1, or -1.

The missing element in your proposal, tho, is whether the goal is to simply keep SS solvent in the long term or to roll it back. In your last line, you deny both outcomes. So, I'm not sure what it is that you are advocating, and have insufficient numbers to evaluate whether your proposal is a reasonable way to achieve any outcome at all.

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