In Poverty Begins Responsibility

I know it’s obvious, but this kind of thing gets on my nerves. I know it’s obvious, I know this is The Economist, but still.

When IBM announced an overhaul of its pension plan for employees in America last week, it joined a parade of employers that are shifting more responsibility for saving for retirement on to workers.

Shifting more responsibility. As if those slacker employees have been just flopping around expecting employers to spoon-feed them, because they’re such babies. As if pensions were not simply part of the agreed compensation package, like, you know, wages. If IBM announced an overhaul of its payment plan for employees, which consisted of reducing their salaries by 100%, would that be shifting more responsibility on to workers? Well, yes, that would be one thing to call it, but I can think of other things.

To the extent that this creates and encourages individual choice and responsibility, it is something to welcome rather than to fear.

Excuse me? I beg your pardon? A reduction in pay is something to welcome? A reduction in pay is something to welcome to the extent that it creates and encourages individual choice and responsibility? Is it? But if that’s true, why doesn’t everyone just decide to shift to a zero-pay system, thus creating maximum individual choice and responsibility? Starting with CEOs? They would welcome zero pay and zero pensions and zero stock options, surely – right? And so would people who write for The Economist?

And even leaving that aside, even ignoring the ludicrous and insulting equation of a pay-cut with an encouragement of frontier virtues, there’s another problem with this stupid kind of rhetoric. No matter how responsible one may be, if one works for low wages, one doesn’t necessarily have the spare money to do one’s own saving for retirement. And yes, even responsible people work for low wages; it happens. And since the entire economy depends on people who work for low wages, it’s hypocritical and shameless to blame those very people for working for low wages, and to ignore their existence when equating the absence of pensions with increased responsibility.

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