Did you have a wonderful time in India? I asked a young friend who had just returned from there.
It was amazing, she said, and we began to talk about southern India where she had been, about its deep spirituality, about the crowds of people everywhere, about the beautiful children.
So you want to go back? I asked.
In a heartbeat. But I cashed in my 401k plan to get there this time, so I don't know when I'm going to be able to go again.
Ah. I had not wanted to ask how she had managed such an expensive trip, but now I knew: she had cashed in her retirement money. Clearly it was worth it in her mind: a once-in-a-lifetime personal and spiritual experience. Of course, she isn't yet thirty years old. Retirement is decades away. It isn't real to her.
So I'm worried about Social Security on ethical grounds. Young people really don't think they'll get old. It just doesn't feel real to them, and most of them wouldn't save for that eventuality if they had a choice. Most of them are just starting out and don't have much cash; they need every penny. If they can get at their retirement money, they'll use it -- not necessarily foolishly, maybe for a house or for education, good things -- But when it's gone, it will be gone.
And yes, over time the market has been the best way to grow money. Over the long haul. But there are downturns in the market that can last for years. I guess you just have to hope you don't reach retirement age during one of them.
But most of all, I fear a safety net for the working poor designed by people who will never need a safety net. President Bush is from a wealthy family. He won't need his Social Security money. Neither will his children or his grandchildren. None of them will ever know what it is to have to live on their own salary and nothing else. All of them could quit work today, never work again and live well for the rest of their lives on other resources.
Lots of young people are fine with the new plan. They don't mind the risk.
But then, they don't really believe they will ever get old.