A Quibble with Ezra Klein on (Not) Raising the Retirement Age

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    Before I get to my quibble with Ezra Klein, I first strongly recommend that everyone read his column, “Why rich guys want to raise the retirement age”. The bottom line is that it’s galling to listen to rich people like Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein talk about raising the retirement age, when in no way will folks like Blankfein ever feel the pain from doing so:

    They don’t want to retire at age 65, and they don’t have short life expectancies, and they’re not mainly relying on Social Security for their retirement income. They’re bravely advocating a cut they’ll never feel.

    Meanwhile, as Klein correctly points out, you don’t hear the Blankfeins of the world talking about lifting the cap on Social Security taxes (currently at the first $110,000 of income, even if you make $16.1 million per year, as Blankfein does). Doing that, as Klein explains, “would do three times as much to solve Social Security’s shortfall as raising the retirement age to 70.” In fact, Klein adds, “it would, in one fell swoop, close Social Security’s solvency gap for the next 75 years.”

    In other words, next time you hear a politician, of either party, talk about raising the retirement age without talking about raising the cap on Social Security taxes from $110,000, feel free to tell them to take a long stroll off a very short pier into an extremely deep lake.

    So what’s my quibble with Ezra Klein on this subject? Basically, it’s the part I’ve bolded in the following sentence by Klein: “One of the things the richest society the world has ever known can buy is a decent retirement for people who don’t have jobs they love and who don’t want to work forever.”

    With all due respect to Ezra Klein, for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration, I don’t believe this is the correct framing of the issue. Instead, my view is that for most working people, it’s not so much an issue of whether they “love” their jobs or “want to work forever,” it’s that they’re sick, in pain, physically exhausted, needing to care for sick spouses or other loved ones, etc. In many cases, that’s why they NEED – not so much “want” – to retire. And that’s exactly what they’ve earned by paying into the system for decades. Sure, if everyone had office jobs that were mentally stimulating, not physically taxing, and financially (highly) rewarding, a lot more people would “want” to keep working until they’re 65, 70 or beyond. But most people – certainly those in the lower income brackets – don’t happen to have jobs like that. Perhaps the Blankfeins of the world would care to switch for a while, walk a mile in the other man’s moccasins so to speak, and then let us know what he thinks about raising the retirement age?

    Bottom line: I have a quibble with Ezra Klein’s otherwise spot-on analysis. I have a lot more than a quibble with the Lloyd Blankfeins of the world.