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JT of Class Consciousness Project

Mar 18, 2024

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro (pictured) landed himself in proverbial hot water with sections of both the American left and right following a podcast which was published on 12th March 2024 when he revealed his views on retirement.

Mr Shapiro began by stating that it was “insane” that the United States Government had not raised the retirement age from 65. By ‘retirement age’, Mr Shapiro was referring to the state pension age – that is the age at which a state ‘social security’ pension would be paid. Unfortunately for him and his argument, the US Government had already raised the retirement age: From its original point of 65 years to 66 years and two months for people born before 1955, and to 67 for people born before 1960.

Mr Shapiro went on to say that retirement itself was a “stupid idea unless you have some sort of health problem”. The truth is that most people over the age of 65 have some sort of health problem: According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), almost 10% of people over the age of 65 have difficulties in self care, 66% of men aged between 65 and 74 have hypertension, with almost 46% of women in the same age bracket having hypertension themselves. These figures rise to 81% of men over 75 having hypertension and 86% of women over 75.

Mr Shapiro went on to describe the phenomenon of people retiring and dying within five years, claiming that working was necessary for people to have a ‘purpose in life’. Mr Shapiro also stated that both his parents were in their sixties and still worked: His mother was a television executive and his father is a composer, both jobs that one could conceivable do well into their twilight years. For most working class people, most of whom are neither television executives or composers, retirement is precisely in order that they can find some real purpose for their lives – breaking from the monotony of a job rendered soul-destroying by the division of labour, long hours and poor pay. Retirement offers people the opportunity to spend their time in much more rewarding ways than simple employment, be it through voluntary work, babysitting for their grandchildren or using the greater free time retirement brings to educate oneself through reading, learning a musical instrument, taking online courses or other forms of study.

But Shapiro did hit upon a point worth exploring during his anti-retirement monologue. He said that it was “totally insane” that people should work from the age of around 20 through to 65, paying into their Social Security benefits sufficiently during that time, to support themselves and their family in retirement on a state pension for another twenty years based on current average lifespans (which are coming down, by the way). British listeners to Mr Shapiro’s words would have surely raised their eyebrows at the notion that the state pension in this country, on its own, could possibly be sufficient to support a retired person and his or her family – it has been an established fact in this country for decades that the state pension in Britain cannot do this on its own.

In Britain, the state pension acts, at best, as a top-up to an existing occupational pension or pensions, given the number of people who work for multiple employers during their working lives. The state pension in Britain will be a maximum of £221.20 from next month, which can be supplemented by other state benefits providing that the person concerned is eligible for them. If they aren’t, then a little over £880 per month has to pay for living expenses, including gas, electricity and food, at a time when the British economy has suffered rampant inflation for some eighteen months which has only now come under some sort of control. By way of comparison, the United States social security pension is, on average, $1767 per month, or roughly £1387.

The fact is that, in western capitalism, Governments have very little real control over the prices of food, fuel and housing, other than to adjust factors like interest rates to kill demand in the system by taking money out of peoples’ pockets or by giving relief on taxes like VAT. It cannot and will not engage in any sort of economic planning, aware as they are of the need for the ruling class, for who they act, to make maximum possible profits and to do that they need a system which is as unplanned and unfettered by the state as possible. The US’s 2022 Inflation Reduction Act was in reality nothing more than a transfer of state funds into private hands by promoting things like green energy, technology that is largely unproven, as well as the creation of an even bigger state bureaucracy by pledging $81bn to collect taxes.

The further fact is that, in western capitalism, the state is no longer willing to pay for its elderly in their retirement. France was beset by rioting on its streets last year when the Government steamrollered a pension reform bill through their parliament which raised the state retirement age from 62 to 64 years of age. The French state was severely criticised for their brutal crackdown on protestors and social media was full of videos of working class people and the police fighting hand-to-hand in the streets. Around one million people took part in the demonstrations.

The French Government claimed that the pension system in France was no longer affordable. But the truth was that the French Government was simply no longer willing to pay for the retirement of workers who have spent their entire adult lives working hard and paying their taxes on the understanding that they would receive a state pension in their retirement. And the state pension they had worked hard to receive was hardly generous – they would receive about €1,200 per month, or £1027, which still compares very favourably with the paltry state pension offered to British workers. At $1,309, it compares roughly equally with the state pension for American retirees, but is significantly lower than state pensions paid in Spain, Belgium or Luxembourg, to name three states.

Capitalism has no answers to this problem: Governments would rather the entire burden of pension provision be borne by employers, but they have seen these employers close their defined benefit pension schemes and curtail the payouts that they give top their employees. They also know that employers have as little interest in supporting their staff in retirement as the Government does.

Governments can do little to prevent inflation other than to take money from people’s pockets to ‘cool the system down’, and can do even less to control the prices of commodities, particularly in Britain where they have let the free market loose on the provision of water, gas and electricity. Only socialism can square this circle: A system whereby the prices of commodities are strictly controlled, wages give workers dignity in their working lives and pensions which give equal dignity in retirement and where the costs of living are controlled at a level where nobody has to live in poverty in whatever years of their post-work life remain.

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