July 22, 2010
The phony social security crisis-6: Retirement and the nature of work
The doomsayers have managed to persuade the majority of people that they will not receive anything from social security, though that is completely false. The idea that the only way to solve the overblown social security 'crisis' is to raise the age of full benefits eligibility from 65 to 70 is wrong. There are other ways to fix social security other than raising the retirement age. The most obvious is to remove the cap that limits the social security payroll tax to only those incomes below $106,800 (the ceiling for 2009). Currently all incomes above that limit do not contribute to the social security trust fund. But there should be no upper limit. As Kevin Drum points out in a handy chart, that one move alone would solve the Social Security problem but there are other ways.
Of course, lifting the cap on earnings that are subject to the social security tax is one of those solutions that will adversely affect only rich people who will hardly notice it but since it is this same group that forms the oligarchy that runs the government and the media and sets policies, such policies are not even considered because this greedy group cares only about increasing its wealth even more, aided in their attempts by the media ignoring this systemic feature. The New York Times recently ran a disapproving article about how the elites in Pakistan avoid paying taxes: "That is mostly because the politicians who make the rules are also the country’s richest citizens, and are skilled at finding ways to exempt themselves." I wonder when the NYT will realize that the US is not much better?
How much one cares about the issue of raising the social security retirement age depends on what kind of job one does. It matters greatly if one has an easy job or a hard one. The attitude to work of elites in well-paying and interesting jobs done in comfortable conditions is a far cry from the experience of people who work because they must and are forced to do hard physical labor every day or work in conditions where they do mindless routine work under the constant supervision of bosses and at jobs that provide no intrinsic satisfaction. The former group enjoys working and tries to continue doing so as long as they can while for the latter group, retirement is a welcome relief, something they look forward to, a brief period of time when they can relax and enjoy life while still (hopefully) having fairly good health, before they become decrepit and die. Such people view raising the retirement age with horror and who can blame them?
Take my job. I spend my days almost entirely in climate-controlled buildings sitting at a desk. I have a lot of control over what I do and when I do it. The work is not repetitive and is intellectually stimulating. I enjoy my work so much that I take it home and do it on weekends and holidays too. So while I may put in a lot of hours at my job, it is not really work in the sense that most people conceive of work, and it would be absurd for me to claim that I am overworked. A raise in the retirement age would not be a blow to me.
And yet, all the media bloviators seem to not recognize this obvious fact about the importance of the quality of work that one does. They act as if it is only the number of hours that one puts in that matters, and not the nature or conditions of work. I am sick of hearing business and financial types justifying their high incomes by bragging about how hard they work. The media seem to venerate these people as highly industrious, as if an hour put in as an investment banker is the same as an hour working in an assembly line or on a construction site or as a waitress or picking fruit and vegetables on a farm.
The arrogance and sense of entitlement of Wall Street types is amazing. They seem to think that they are doing us all a favor and that if we make reforms that cut into their astronomical earnings, that they will teach us all a lesson by 'going Galt' on us, quitting what they do, taking over our jobs, and throwing us out of work, as seen in this email from one such person that has been widely circulating:
What’s going to happen when we can’t find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We’re going to take yours. We get up at 5am & work till 10pm or later. We’re used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don’t take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don’t demand a union. We don’t retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we’ll eat that.
For years teachers and other unionized labor have had us fooled. We were too busy working to notice. Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? We’re going to take your cushy jobs with tenure and 4 months off a year and whine just like you that we are so-o-o-o underpaid for building the youth of America. Say goodbye to your overtime and double time and a half. I’ll be hitting grounders to the high school baseball team for $5k extra a summer, thank you very much.
So now that we’re going to be making $85k a year without upside, Joe Mainstreet is going to have his revenge, right? Wrong! Guess what: we’re going to stop buying the new 80k car, we aren’t going to leave the 35 percent tip at our business dinners anymore. No more free rides on our backs. We’re going to landscape our own back yards, wash our cars with a garden hose in our driveways. Our money was your money. You spent it. When our money dries up, so does yours.
Yes, all you lazy landscapers and chicken pluckers and farm workers and teachers out there whining about low pay and lousy working conditions. You better not blame the investment bankers and put restrictions on what they do and can earn because they will quit and come and take your jobs in revenge! Do you realize how impossible it is to live on just $85,000 a year 'without upside' (whatever the hell that is)? Because you know something? The reason they have been successful so far is because they are not only much smarter than you but they are also genetically programmed to work hard irrespective of what the job is or how much it pays, and they can do your job, whatever it is, much better than you can. So you better not mess with them.
The reality is that the despised landscaping or farm worker jobs are not only much harder than white-collar jobs but also actually produce things that people need and use. The Wall Street types represented by the author of the above email are actually parasites, making a living off other people's money. They have no idea what real work is and yet think they do.
POST SCRIPT: The Wall Street business model
Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow gives the perfect summary of the thinking and morals of the Wall Street investment bankers who caused the financial crisis with their speculative practices.