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No Cause for Pessimism

George Will has long been one of my favorite conservative columnists.  I often disagree with him, but even more often I agree with him.  And, boy, do I agree with the lesson he conveys in his column appearing in today’s Washington Post.  Will’s point is that to call today’s economic woes a "crisis" is to define the word "crisis" way, way down.  Here’s are the opening few paragraphs from this excellent column:

During presidential elections, when candidates postulate this or that
"crisis" for which each is the indispensable and sufficient cure,
economic hypochondria is encouraged, so a sense of suffering is
rampant. Recently the Wall Street Journal, like Joseph Conrad contemplating the Congo, surveyed today’s economic jungle and cried, "The horror! The horror!"

Declines in housing values and the stock market are causing some Americans to delay retirement. A Kansas City man had been eager to retire to Arizona but now, the Journal says, "figures he’ll stay put for another couple of years." He is 59.

So, this is a facet of today’s hydra-headed "crisis" — the man must
linger in the labor force until, say, 62. That is the earliest age at
which a person can, and most recipients do, begin collecting Social

The proportion of people aged 55 to 64 who are working rose 1.5
percentage points from April 2007 to February 2008, during which the
percentage of working Americans older than 65 rose two-tenths of one
percentage point. The Journal grimly reported, "The prospect of
millions of grandparents toiling away in their golden years doesn’t
square with the American dream."

Oh? The idea that protracted golden years of idleness are a
universal right is a delusion of recent vintage. Deranged by the
entitlement mentality fostered by a metastasizing welfare state,
Americans now have such low pain thresholds that suffering is defined
as a slight delay in beginning a subsidized retirement often lasting
one-third of the retiree’s adult lifetime.

George Will’s wisdom inoculates him from the pessimistic bias.

I would add only that government subsidies to Americans in their 60s and older (most notably, Social Security and Medicare) are not the only forces enabling Americans today to retire earlier than in the past.  The increasing wealth generated by the private sector is another reason — in fact, I suspect, the principal reason.


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