Here’s an important fact about the United States of America. Since 1940, advances in prenatal, neonatal, and pediatric medicine have massively reduced early in life deaths. This is common sense. When I was a kid, I was vaccinated against all sorts of diseases that we didn’t have vaccines for 70 years ago. I also wasn’t vaccinated against smallpox because smallpox doesn’t exist. When I got strep throat, I was treated with antibiotics. When that didn’t work one time and the strep developed into scarlet fever, I was treated with more and different antibiotics. So since lots of little kids used to die of mumps and rubella and such, a lot of the increase in life expectancy over the past 70 years has been driven by these kind of things.
Ryan Grimm knows this, but apparently Alan Simpson doesn’t:
Simpson argued that Social Security was originally intended more as a welfare program.
“It was never intended as a retirement program. It was set up in ‘37 and ‘38 to take care of people who were in distress — ditch diggers, wage earners — it was to give them 43 percent of the replacement rate of their wages. The [life expectancy] was 63. That’s why they set retirement age at 65” for Social Security, he said. [...]
HuffPost suggested to Simpson during a telephone interview that his claim about life expectancy was misleading because his data include people who died in childhood of diseases that are now largely preventable. Incorporating such early deaths skews the average life expectancy number downward, making it appear as if people live dramatically longer today than they did half a century ago. According to the Social Security Administration’s actuaries, women who lived to 65 in 1940 had a life expectancy of 79.7 years and men were expected to live 77.7 years.
“If that is the case — and I don’t think it is — then that means they put in peanuts,” said Simpson.
Later in the interview, Simpson reveals that doesn’t what life expectancy even means: “If you’re telling me that a guy who got to be 65 in 1940 — that all of them lived to be 77 — that is just not correct.” And of course it’s not correct. Plenty of people turned 65 then died the next year. But on average, a 65 year-old man in 1940 could expect to live 12-13 more years. But the really striking moment is when Simpson says this to Grimm:
“This is the first time, the first time — and Erskine [Bowles, the deficit commission co-chair,] and I have been talking for a year and many months — that anyone’s going to sit around and play with statistics like this.”
That’s right, according to former Senator Alan Simpson not only did he not familiarize himself with the relevant life expectancy data during his many years in the Senate, he’s never once brought it up during his months of work on a commission specifically charged with re-evaluating America’s retirement programs. And this, in turn, tells you a lot about how Washington works. There are tons of people in this town who know lots of things about public policy. But possessing this knowledge isn’t considered an important qualification for these kind of jobs. Simpson is old, and he used to be an influential Senator, and since he was pro-choice he’s also “moderate.” That’s all the qualification you need. Actual knowledge isn’t important.