Driving to the office just now I heard on WAMU – a DC-area NPR station – two items that caught my attention.
The first was an announcement of an upcoming broadcast of a conversation with Treasury secretary Jack Lew. We listeners were informed that Sec. Lew would discuss ideas on how to help “people who have inadequate retirement savings.”
“People who have inadequate retirement savings” is a phrase that makes it sound as if such people are akin to people who have Russian ancestors or people who have inadequate arches in their feet. That is, this phrasing suggests that “having inadequate retirement savings” is something that just happens to people – or is an inherent characteristic of some people – independently of their choices. It sounds as if some people are blessed to “have” adequate retirement savings while other people, unluckily, “have” inadequate retirement saving. NPR’s perspective – which, of course, is widespread – is all wrong.
Of course it’s true that some people suffer, through no fault of their own, misfortunes that devastate their retirement savings. But surely such misfortune is hardly the norm. I have no stats on the matter, but knowing what I know about modern America and the American economy, I’m quite sure that a significant majority of Americans today who “have” inadequate retirement savings “have” only themselves to blame.
I’m aware that such a statement about personal responsibility is greeted as warmly by today’s typical intellectual as he or she would greet an invitation to a monster-truck rally. But the size of your retirement savings, unlike your genes or the flatness of your feet, is not something that just happens to you independently of your choices.
The second ditty that I heard on NPR was a report in which a member of the DC city council worried aloud that money “will pollute our politics.” Such a concern is akin to worrying that dropping a moldy bagel into a cesspool will pollute the contents of the cesspool.