The March 26, 2008 Baltimore Sun has printed a disturbing OpEd by Andrew Yarrow, in which he makes the claim that Americans who retire early are “selfish and unpatriotic”. Here are a few excerpts:
Early retirement selfish, unpatriotic
…But there’s just something – make that lots of things – wrong, in general, with retiring at 55, 62 or even 65. I would go so far as to call it profoundly selfish and unpatriotic.
Dropping out of the work force while still in one’s prime means ending one’s contributions to America’s strength, mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s future and leeching trillions of taxpayer dollars from the economy.
…Thus, working longer would increase national output and personal wealth. And given our nation’s crying need for teachers, social service workers and public servants, millions of “seasoned citizens” could serve our communities while giving meaning and money to people with decades of life and activity left in them.
…For everyone’s good, Americans should at least be able to work as long as their shorter-lived, poorer grandparents did. By doing so, they would be unselfishly helping preserve and strengthen our nation’s future by alleviating – rather than worsening – our national debt and making hands-on contributions to our children and communities.
There are a few noteworthy unstated premises in his argument.
(1) Your life is not your own; instead service to others is the highest good.
(2) Selfishness is opposed to patriotism; in other words looking out for your own interests is harmful to the USA.
(3) When you stop working, you are “leeching” off of others.
Of course, the current system of Social Security taxes are just a giant Ponzi scheme. The government attempts to promote the fiction that you are paying your own money into the system when you work and you are “getting it back” when you retire. At least Yarrow is correct in stating that retirees are collecting other people’s money.
As the Social Security crisis deepens over the next decade or so, I expect we’ll here more such collectivist arguments, in an attempt to forestall intergenerational resentment amongst American.
But the solution is not to force people to work longer for a mythical “common good”. Instead, it is to phase out and eventually eliminate the collectivist system of Social Security altogether and let people truly fund their own retirement with their own money. Yes, there will be some painful transition costs. But if we do nothing, we’ll pay in the form of vastly more economic pain in 15-20 years, with interest.