One of the frequent responses I receive to my criticisms of excessive public employee pensions and expanding unfunded pension liabilities comes from (no surprise) well-pensioned government employees who tell me that I am simply "jealous" about what they have and what I don't have. Even many liberals I talk to -- at least those who work in the private sector -- agree that the imbalance is too severe. Perhaps this is jealousy, but I like to think of it as indignation at an unfair situation.
Those of us in the private sector have adopted new attitudes about retirement. Few of us have gold-plated retirement packages, so we realize that we will need to work until we drop over, or at least as long as we can do so. We have scaled-back expectations.Why shouldn't public employees, who are supposed to work for us, do some of their own soul searching and rethinking?
This article, by Gary North called "Never Say Retire," captures the attitude that has become common. As he wrote, "The media are filled with articles on how few Americans have the necessary $1 million in their retirement portfolios that is required today to live comfortably. With interest rates below 2%, and with stock dividends no higher, there is no way that a mere millionaire can live for 15 to 20 years without selling off portions of his portfolio, year by year. Unless he invested in housing before 1998, letting his renters pay off his mortgages, he is facing the prospect of having to deplete his capital, year by year. This is a fearful prospect. Yet people don't plan for it."
North points to a depressing and mind-numbingly boring study by the Employee Benefits Research Institute, which shows that most of us would need to defer retirement to at least 84 to be able to live comfortably on our savings, which is rather funny given that at that point we're all living on borrowed time. Only in the government sector can most people plan on retiring comfortably -- and they can do so at exceedingly young ages.
Government employees need to learn what the rest of us have learned, to adopt the "Never Say Retire" attitude, or at least recognize that there's no longer a gravy train that will allow them to retire in their 50s with millionaires' retirement packages. This is change we call should believe in.