I'm certainly sympathetic to right wing claims about personal responsibility. So much of the difficulties people have in this life are a product of their own bad choices. At least in America. You do have the opportunities here that people in most other countries don't get. So supposing you don't take advantage of those. Should others be obligated to bail you out?
Let's take an issue like pensions vs 401k plans. When 401k's were introduced right wingers loved them because they allow people more freedom. A pension is in effect a forced savings plan. Part of your compensation is saved on your behalf. With a 401k you can decide to save that money or not. Suppose you have a financial need in your younger years and you choose to forego savings for some period of time. A 401k allows you the freedom to make that choice. Also the pension funds are invested for you. You don't have the freedom to choose the investments you prefer. In a 401k you do.
Freedom is great. But sometimes the freedom of others affects you. You might not think that the bad choices of others in this sphere would matter to you. But it seems to me that there's a good chance they will.
What have people done with this freedom they now have to save for their own retirement? What they've done is failed to save. To me the paltry savings of Americans is shocking. According to one poll 36% of Americans don't contribute to a savings plan of any kind. 43% have less than $10K saved for retirement, including 29% of those over the age of 55.
And just anecdotal in my world it seems obvious that retirement for people near my age is going to be a catastrophe. I know people that have been laid off. Their savings, which in some cases was not huge to begin with, has taken a massive hit. When you have been forced to contribute to a pension it doesn't matter if you've peen laid off. You can't touch the pension money. People with 401k's can and do. And they of course must pay the corresponding tax penalties.
I hear this again and again. "We're not planning to retire." You can plan to work all you want. But this doesn't mean an employer plans to hire you. I happen to know a guy that recruits technical people, like engineers. He tells me straight out that age discrimination may be illegal, but it is an indisputable part of the corporate world. He can hardly place people in their upper 50's. It's not that elderly people are incapable of doing the job. It's more that elderly people are more expensive. They have health problems. Why hire a 55 year old when you can hire a 25 year old? So you can want to work all you want, but you can't count on working at a job that has any interest in providing health coverage.
Screw 'em, says the right winger. They made the choice to spend their savings or they failed to invest. That's their problem. Well, it may be yours. Again, take a look at what people have. People between the ages of 55 and 65 have an AVERAGE accumulated savings of $69K. And remember that averages are skewed by the few wealthy on the very upper echelons of society. The median (which is the value that reflects the amount at which there is as many above as below) will be lower than $69K, possibly much lower. You'd have to stretch $69K to even provide 2 years of retirement.
With an extremely paltry amount saved, do you not think there will be consequences for you even if you did save? We're talking not just about a LOT of people without adequate funds in their old age. We're talking about the VAST MAJORITY of people. You could have streets packed with elderly homeless people, all clamoring for jobs that offer no benefits, like at Wal-Mart. Whether you like it or not this extreme level of inequality is going to produce social upheaval. And if you've saved your whole life it may not matter. You'll lose much of what you've saved as society crumbles.
The plus side is that we do have Social Security. As I've mentioned before, as a savings plan it's not good. But thinking it through I think it's important to focus on the fact that this is not what it is intended to be. It is intended to prevent the many multitudes that have made those poor choices from starving at the very least. So that's our saving grace. If Republicans don't destroy it.
To me though this whole thing is a catastrophe. Today's elderly probably mostly have pensions. It's not terrible right now. But as the years pass and more and more retire that lack a pension we could start to see a lot more crushing poverty. That's bad for the poor and the rich.