Though I agree with Sullivan that this is, at least, a serious idea for reducing the deficit, count me out. ... Biggs quotes evidence showing that health has improved among elderly Americans, and jobs have grown less physically demanding, since Social Security was founded. That's true, but it's also true that America is much richer than it once was. Adjusting for inflation, our gross domestic product in 1935 was $865 billion. In 2009, it was more than $12 trillion.
Leisure time at the end of life is something we can buy.
The question is whether we want it. Elites don't, and so raising the retirement age is very popular among them. They -- or maybe I should say we -- want to work until 70, and 75, and 85. It's a painless reform for us, and so we've convinced ourselves it's a painless reform for most people. Conversely, we don't want to raise taxes on ourselves, and so you don't hear much about lifting the cap on the payroll tax that funds Social Security. But, funnily enough, when you pose the question to Americans, they see it differently: They don't like taxes, but benefit cuts are much less popular. And notice that that poll question doesn't even note that the relevant tax would mainly hit wealthier Americans.
Nearly a quarter of South Korean men over 75 are still in the labor force, as are 14 percent of Japanese men. In the United States, a 10th of such men are working or seeking work, compared with half of 1 percent in France.
Put another way, a Korean man over 75 is more likely to be working than a Frenchman in his early 60s.
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