Thomas Friedman Wants Us to Follow Greece

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Sunday, 22 January 2012 05:45

At least he does when it comes to restructuring our Social Security system. One of the widely ridiculed features of Greece's social welfare system was a differential retirement age for the public pension system that made the qualifying age for their Social Security system dependent on a worker's occupation. According to a widely repeated account hair dressers could retire at age 50.

The co-chairs of President Obama's deficit commission, Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson proposed that the U.S. adopt a similar system of occupation specific eligibility ages to go along with its proposal to raise the normal retirement age to 69. (Friedman wrongly attributes the plan to the commission as a whole, when he endorsed it in his column. The commission did not approve a plan.)

The Bowles-Simpson plan would also sharply cutback benefits for middle income workers like school teachers and firefighters in future decades. It would also immediately change the annual cost of living adjustment formula so that benefits would reduced be by 0.3 percentage points annually compared with the current formula. Their plan would reduce benefits by 3.0 percentage points after workers have been retired 10 years and 6.0 percentage points after workers have been retired 20 years. In case we don't think this is a sufficient sacrifice from retired workers, the Bowles-Simpson plan also proposes sharp cuts in Medicare that are likely to lead to much higher health care costs for the elderly.

Interestingly, in spite of his concern about competitiveness, Friedman never discusses the value of the dollar. The over-valued dollar is the main factor in the country's trade deficit. A lower valued dollar makes U.S. goods more competitive by making imports more expensive for people in the United States and our exports cheaper for people living in other countries. For some reason, he never mentions the over-valued dollar in his piece.