Retirement: The Last Entitlement

shopkeeperFor all the conservative talk about cutting back on entitlements today, there is one that has been untouchable. You’re thinking “Social Security,” but you’d be wrong. There are all kinds of proposals out there for getting a handle on Social Security costs. What hasn’t even been considered would go to the root of the problem: we should stop considering retirement as an entitlement.

In fact, we have already started doing just that, without saying—or even thinking—that people should not be entitled to retire just because they’ve reached a certain age or time in service. We’ve already embarked on this path by putting more and more seniors in low-wage, no-benefit jobs that don’t let them acquire savings and pensions to retire on. Small business owners, for the most part, don’t retire either. Their nest egg is in their business; if they can’t sell out, they have to work until they drop. Old-fashioned defined-benefit pensions are going the way of the dinosaurs, even among public employees. We are more and more telling people, “You’re on your own,” when it comes to retirement. Maybe it’s time to formalize that: retirement will no longer be an entitlement.

Since we glorify competition as good for both individuals and society at large, why not treat retirement as a job for which you apply? Then we could be sure that only the fittest, those most qualified, would get to retire.

That raises a few questions. First, of course, how do we define fitness to retire? When we think of it that way, it becomes obvious that people who are significantly impaired, physically or mentally, are NOT the best qualified to retire. On the contrary, the best qualified will be the best-preserved. The others will just have to keep working, if they can, or live on the street. But that’s all right because they will be strengthened by the experience of competition. And they will probably die younger, saving the rest of us a lot of money.

A second aspect of qualification to retire involves wherewithal: if you lack the money to retire, you obviously are not qualified to do so. This simply formalizes the de facto situation previously described. People in low wage and part-time jobs, people trapped in small businesses that they can’t sell, clearly do not meet the qualifications. They need to suck it up and take responsibility for themselves.

A third issue involves the actual process of selecting retirees. We wouldn’t want the government to do it: that would be socialistic. People who are not yet retired are scarcely qualified to decide who IS most qualified to retire. Thus, clearly, selection must rest with those who are already retired. It would perhaps be analogous to a fraternity or sorority rush, with winners admitted and losers consigned to the outer darkness.

Imagine how this will work. In each county, retired persons would form a Congress of Already Retired Persons (CARP) responsible for reviewing all applications, cutting them down to short lists, and interviewing finalists. They could admit to retirement as many as they found qualified, but they would be allocating a finite budget for American Superannuation Subsidies (ASS). That is, the more people accepted for retirement, the less ASS for each one. Retirees would thus have a strong incentive to limit the numbers of new retirees, to keep more ASS for themselves.

john peelerThere is another benefit to this system: it would put the retirees to work. They will be earning the ASS that they get. And they would no doubt feel better about themselves for not being takers.

Think of it: since everyone, including the retired, will be working, we will not only have eliminated retirement as an entitlement, we will have eliminated retirement itself. America, we can do it!

John Peeler

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on January 30, 2013
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About John Peeler

John Peeler is a retired professor of political science at Bucknell University, specializing in Latin American and international affairs. His op-ed essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, as well as many in local papers in central Pennsylvania where he lives. He has had letters published in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.