Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An obvious point and a late New Year's resolution

An obvious point, that almost never gets mentioned in discussions about Social Security and deficit reduction, is that the manufacturing work decreased dramatically between the early Nineteenth Century and the end of World War II, but has barely changed since 1950. Link

It doesn't take much thought to figure out why Americans were able to work fewer hours in 1950 than in 1830 -- technological advances and increased productivity. So, why has the work week remained basically unchanged through roughly sixty years of great technological advances and greatly increased productivity? One reason would be that people are living longer and enjoying longer retirements. Increased productivity prior to World War II led to greater leisure relatively early in life, increased productivity since WWII has led to more leisure in our later years.

I feel I'm stating the obvious, but I constantly come across people like George Will writing things like:
In 1935, when Congress enacted Social Security, protracted retirement was a luxury enjoyed by a tiny sliver of the population. Back then, Congress did its arithmetic ruthlessly: When it set the retirement age at 65, the life expectancy of an adult American male was 65. If in 1935 Congress had indexed the retirement age to life expectancy, today's retirement age would be 75.

So, I can't help but wonder why pundits like Will never mention technological advances, increased productivity and the static length of the work week when discussing retirement age.

I can only come up with two possible reasons. Either, they're too stupid or too lazy to think for themselves, or they think you are.

Unless anybody can come up with another reason, my late New Year's resolution is to point out that any politician or political pundit who discusses the retirement age without mentioning the unchanged length of the work week after decades of technological change is either a fool or thinks you're one. I hope that resolution doesn't apply to the president.

I'm also starting to think the same thing about the use of generational labels in political discussions, especially discussions of Social Security, but I'll have to turn this comment into a full length post or two to explain why. I do recommend the Archein post where I made the comment, even though it's a few months old and I think the author took a wrong turn at the end.

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