Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Somebody’s Going to Ask …

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What would I say if someone said “Hey Dr. Tufte! Is there one thing you could suggest that’s both feasible and will help solve our government’s fiscal problems?”

Here’s the answer: increase the age at which social security benefits can be paid by 1 month every second month, and sustain that pace for a minimum of 30 years.

This has the advantage that it hurts everyone equitably, doesn’t preclude you from retiring if you’ve got the money, and addresses the fundamental problem with social security.

That fundamental problem is that life expectancy at 65 was 2 years when Social Security started, and it is now in the high teens for men, and low twenties for women.

Don’t believe me? Then take my “Auntie Em’ Test”.

  1. Is it reasonable to believe that Auntie Em’ in the The Wizard of Oz was reasonably portrayed — by the Hollywood contemporary with the creation of Social Security — to be a believable character?
  2. How old did Dorothy’s Auntie Em’ look in the Wizard of Oz?

Your answers are probably “yes” and “pretty damn old — maybe 75.

Now think about that: she was the aunt of a 14 year old girl. So, she might have been 35. Even if she was a great aunt, she’s unlikely to have been 60.

That’s how much our perceptions of age have changed since the creation of Social Security, and that’s what we need to address with the age that benefits begin.

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