The Young Farmers Coalition recently put out a fantastic report about the barriers that keep young people from starting farms, and how these affect America's food future. With the average U.S. farmer around 70 years old, some estimate that a quarter of our nation's food producers will retire in the next ten years. Recruiting new farmers is crucial, yet these young farmers cite lack of capital and poor access to healthcare as their primary struggles in starting new enterprises.
T and I are fortunate enough that we likely won't have to worry too much about either of these things. When I deployed to Iraq a few years ago debt-free, I put my entire tax-free paycheck for a year and a half into savings, a substantial amount that will likely be the down-payment for our farmland. And next year, T will hit 20 years in service and will be able to retire at the ripe old age of 38. We will have access to affordable healthcare through the Tricare for Military Retirees program, which charges a premium of about $500 a year for the entire family. We will have a small but steady monthly income from that pension, which will ensure that we'll have enough capital flow to buy gasoline and salt and coffee while we get our farm into the black. In short, the sacrifices we've made for the Army over all these years will translate into the perfect combination of benefits for starting a farm. We've earned them.
You may already know that in this age of federal deficit, Congress has been considering cutting benefits for military retirees. (I guess the $1,200 a month we will receive after five deployments and two decades away from our families just isn't fair to all of the other taxpayers.) But you may not know that this idea, and other similarly ridiculous ones, is the brainchild of the Defense Business Board -- a closed group of highly paid, Wall-Street bred civilian corporate advisors to the Department of Defense. Today's headline article in Mother Jones magazine, "Inside the Corporate Plan to Occupy the Pentagon," says that "a report from the board argued that paying soldiers and their families for 60 years after 20 years of service was "unsustainable," adding, "The 'Military Retirement' sacred cow is increasingly unaffordable." The board called for scrapping the system in favor of a mandatory 401(k)-style account whose savings could "be invested in higher yielding equities and bonds."
Clearly, this bunch of Wall Street investors are selflessly attempting to save the government money by advising the existing military pension system be scrapped, and instead invested on Wall Street.
As to their argument that paying people for 60 more years after they serve 20 is unsustainable, I first of all disagree with their math. The youngest a person can retire after 20 years of service would be 37, and very few veterans will live to be 97 years old. But more importantly, I think that the all-volunteer force is hopelessly unsustainable without the 20-year pension. Many of our most experienced, senior leaders are soldiers who are only staying in "till I hit my 20." Changing retirement benefits to require 30 years of service -- or, as the DBB recommends, eliminating them all together in favor of a corporate-style 401(k) plan -- would cause many of our most seasoned veteran leaders to decide that sticking it out for five or ten more years just isn't worth it. Even if we instituted the wildly unpopular option of a draft, this wouldn't solve the problem. Recruiting has really never been a problem -- lots of young people in America want to join the military. Giving up four years of your life and possibly a major limb in exchange for an almost-free college education is a big attractor. The problem is retention. It takes a particular type of person to want to stay in an organization which requires extraordinary sacrifices that are simply not comparable to any civilian job, not even police or firefighters. We are already offering bonuses of $35,000 or more to try to entice leaders to stay in after eight or ten years of service.
But hey, I'm a beneficiary of the current system, so what do I know. If T lives to be 97, the total cost to the government for his pension will be about $850,000. When you consider that a single brand-new F-22 Raptor costs $350,000,000, cutting benefits instead is clearly the way to go.