There’s been much discussion throughout the military over the past few weeks on the proposed reworking of retirement benefits to help balance the budget. Unfortunately, like everything else in the nation that’s been notionally targeted for budget cuts, we all seem to have Not In My Backyard (NIMBy) syndrome. Yes yes, of course cuts are needed, but don’t take them from me! Bullshit. I, for one, am willing to accept cuts as long as I’m not the ONLY one getting cut. I think everyone needs to give up something, especially since if everyone was willing to give up a little, I think (without benefit of being an economist, but I’d love to hear from one on the below ideas) we could heartily attack the budget crisis with harming anyone. And yes, I believe it is a crisis. I believe the national debt is a key national security issue, but it’s not being addressed as one.
So on the all the talk about cutting or reducing or reworking military retirements: quite frankly I’m not worried. Sure, there’s talk of reducing retirements to 40% or even less for those currently on active duty, but I don’t think it will fly. It’s not politically viable; any member of Congress who votes to affect the retirement of someone who’s already been serving for 12, 15 or 18 years knows they’ll immediately lose most of their military support in the next election. If a sitting member of Congress with a military base in their district voted this course of action, anyone stepping in to the next round of elections would just have to say they’d work to restore the retirements and they’d suck up all the military votes in that district. So changes to retirement for folks newly joining the military? Sure, definitely possible, even likely. Changes to those serving a lesser amount time… say, less than 10 years in service? Possible, since they have a good deal of time to plan and play catch-up. But changing the retirement benefits of someone who’s within a few years of retirement? Don’t think it’s gonna happen.
However, I acknowledge that financially, we’re in quite a pickle, and one that continues to float toward the bottom of the pickle barrel (is there a bottom? Insolvency perhaps?). What to do? I favor the peanut butter spread mentioned in the first chapter. There are now, I think, less than one million active duty military members, and most of those won’t be doing the full 20 years to retirement. This leaves a relatively (relatively in the tens of thousands arena, as a rough estimate [it’s Saturday morning; no, I haven’t researched anything yet!]) of people whose retirement benefits Congress is considering pillaging 5, 10 or 20 percent from. Yet, there are, per the American Military Retirees Association website (okay, I did SOME research), around two million military retirees in the U.S. My proposal is cut ALL personal military retirement benefit accounts – past, present and future – by two percent. There are some people who would have trouble dealing with a two percent cut in their benefits, but I feel that number would be extremely small. For most, it would be nearly unnoticeable. And, in the small, unscientific and very informal discussions I’ve brought up around the office with the active duty and retired members there, they were all willing to make that sacrifice toward a solvent nation.
But wait, there’s more! If the President and Congress say that everyone must do their part, why limit it to the military? The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association represents “some five million federal workers, retirees, spouses and their survivors.” The Washington Post’s Federal Eye column (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/federal-eye/2010/09/how_many_federal_workers_are_t.html) lists 2.65 million federal workers out there, leaving over two million federal retirees to contribute their two percent. And before anyone starts bitching, yes, I absolutely believe that Congress needs to give up their two percent, along with some of the more ridiculous retirement perks too. Numbers-wise, Congress is a drop in the bucket, but (1) those drops add up and (2) I’m a big believer in leadership by example. I also think that my spreading the two-percent across as large a population as possible, it would prevent a slippery-slope possibility that could come from targeting, say, just the military.
I would LOVE for an economist, statistician, accountant or some econ graduate student to do an analysis of my proposal to see if it’s actually valid. Yes, I fully expect the military and federal retiree associations (and Congress) will have a hissy fit over this content (NIMBy again), but somehow I think many of their members would see differently. After all, these people gave their careers sacrificing for their country, and they’re being asked to do it again, but on a much, much smaller level for 99% of them. I’m willing to part with a fraction of my retirement to contribute my part; are you?