Poverty and old age

The New York Times of February 24th carried an article about behavioural economics. The article states that since defined- benefit pensions disappeared in the private sector, only 40% of American families in the bottom half of the income distribution have any form of retirement savings plan. Even among those who do have a plan, their total savings are, on average, $40,000. They don’t save because they have no money to save. Of all the advanced economies, the US had the worst poverty rate and the worst infant mortality, obesity and diabetes rates. The death rate from drug overdoses among young white adults is as high as the death rate used to be of AIDS at its peak. Government savings schemes haven’t worked, nor has making saving simpler.  (Based on a New York Times article)

Epicurus might well judge this situation, in an otherwise rich country, to be a disgrace. There are those who say the government’s role is to reduce dependence on public support, and that the poor should “get on their bikes”, find a proper job , and support their families. The fact is that under current conditions, with wages falling or stagnant,  any incentive to save for old age is overwhelmed by the need for food on the table this week. What is needed is a living wage that gives poor people the opportunity to make choices. One of those choices would be to save for retirement. This is absolutely not the message that resonates with corporations, their political hangers- on, or the heartless religious Right.

How can anyone justify this or think it acceptable?   Historically,  one could, not unreasonably, forecast an eventual uprising and violence, given desperation and the obscene number of guns owned by the public.  The reader will probably think this to be alarmist, but the French and Russian revolutions came as a surprise to the super-rich in both countries, spurred by such desperation and a non-responsive elite.   In America? Well, I believe in moderation, and hope Congress, before they vote their backers even more riches, stops and ponders history.  A dystopian point of view, I know, and I apologise, but historians are there partly to point out parallels.  This cannot – will not – go on indefinitely.