May 14, 2013

Matt Miller’s May 11 op-ed column “America’s sleeper crisis: Retirement” acknowledged that an “American with savings” is a “rare American indeed.” He also conceded, as he must, that this supposed “retirement crisis begins with a savings crisis.” Mr. Miller and his readers should ponder the truism that you can spend what you have saved, but you cannot save what you have spent. In other words, we have an over-consumption problem.

How many of the millions of “members of the middle class and upper middle class” with insufficient savings have flat-screen televisions, dine out frequently or make innumerable other self-indulgent purchases? As a hyper-consuming nation, we seem to have forgotten the virtues of delayed gratification. This is a “crisis” only because millions of Americans abandoned frugality, which Mr. Miller denigrated as a “Ben Franklin-style” homily.

Setting aside the truly poor, this is a problem for huge swaths of the middle and upper-middle class primarily because of their own moral and self-control failings. The problem certainly does not require another expensive federal government program funded by what Mr. Miller called an “almost certainly coming” value-added tax. Such a new, expensive and controversial program would be an unwarranted solution to a problem better addressed by the millions of Americans who over-spend instead of saving.

Campbell Killefer, Bethesda

Matt Miller’s May 11 op-ed column has the all-too-familiar political resolution: raise taxes. While retirement will be a problem for many, as Mr. Miller pointed out, his solution was based on the well-known axiom: Never let a serious crisis go to waste. The twist here is that instead of increasing the taxes we have, Mr. Miller suggests adding another one: the value-added tax (VAT). Of course, once we go down that path, the answer will be easier when the next crisis rears its ugly head: just increase the VAT. No “creativity” needed.

Many countries may “do something like this today,” but the total tax burden on those citizens is high. Why emulate such practices?

Dave Pellinen, Arlington