The United States Congress has a new member this week.
After losing the race for governor of Montana in November, Greg Gianforte turned around and won a special election to fill Montana’s one seat in the House of Representatives.
Most people are talking about how he won his seat despite body slamming a reporter the night before the election.
Instead, I want to talk about his views on Social Security and retirement.
(And yes, I recognize that only a personal finance blog can be interested in retirement policies while a politician is beating up the press. But we’re all nerds here, and we’re okay with it.)
Here’s the newest Congressman from Montana on retirement:
“There’s nothing in the Bible that talks about retirement. And yet it’s been an accepted concept in our culture today. Nowhere does it say, ‘Well, he was a good and faithful servant, so he went to the beach.’ It doesn’t say that anywhere.
“The example I think of is Noah. How old was Noah when he built the ark? 600. He wasn’t like, cashing Social Security checks, he wasn’t hanging out, he was working. So, I think we have an obligation to work. The role we have in work may change over time, but the concept of retirement is not biblical.”
Obviously this isn’t a great policy position on its face. I’m not sure you could get much support for raising the retirement age above 600. Nor should laws be based on Biblical interpretations.
However, the underlying concept struck me as reminiscent of an ongoing discussion in the Financial Independence community.
To Work or Not to Work
The Financial Independence/Early Retirement community seems split between two different end goals. One group wants to hit their financial independence number so that they can retire from paid work and spend their time doing work that is more interesting to them, regardless of the paycheck.
The other group is working to retire early so that they can actually retire and relax.
Among the first group you will here statements like “I can’t imagine myself just sitting around.” “I don’t intend to ever stop working in one form or another.” “I want to work for myself as long as I am able.”
Gianforte is taking this idea and pushing it one step further. Not only should you keep working because you want to keep working, but you have a moral obligation to keep working.
The implication even beyond that is that if you have a moral obligation to keep working, then the government shouldn’t be encouraging retirement with programs like Social Security and Medicare.
A Moral Obligation?
I feel a personal moral obligation to help those who are less fortunate.
I have had a lot of lucky breaks in my life and a lot of great support to help get me to where I am today. Many people are not so lucky. I feel that I have an obligation to use the product of my good fortune to help those who are not so fortunate.
I consistently feel that I am not living up to that obligation. But I am trying.
That said, I don’t know that I could possibly assign that obligation to all of society. I feel it myself, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else feels it. It doesn’t mean that it is objectively true.
Who am I to know better than you how to live your life?
I should note, as well, that there is also a difference between a moral obligation to help those who are less fortunate and a blanket moral obligation to work.
As you may be able to tell, I am not on board with Gianforte here. However, I thought it might be an interesting idea to throw out to all of you for your thoughts.
So what do you think? Is there a moral obligation to work if you are able? And if so, should the government enforce this obligation by removing the safety net?