Greedy old people

(I was recently reminded about an angry rant that I wrote many years ago when I turned sixty and decided to repeat an edited version of it for those who did not see it then. Some of the links no longer work, though.)

I recently turned 60. I don’t pay much attention to my birthdays but this one is a little special because it signifies that by almost any measure I am now officially an old person, a member of a group a subset of whom has been annoying the hell out of me for a long time: greedy old people.

Let me make it quite clear whom this rant is targeting. It is not aimed at old people who after many decades of hard work are even now struggling to make ends meet on their meager savings and social security checks, some of whom have to continue working well past normal retirement age at dead-end and physically demanding jobs which take a toll on their bodies, in order to obtain the basic necessities of life, such as food and shelter. Those people can leave the room because my words are not aimed at them.

This rant is targeted at those well-off old people, who have done well financially and can live comfortably in their old age and yet are constantly on their guard to protect their own standard of living and fight off any changes that might affect them negatively in the slightest, even if those changes might benefit others in much greater need.

Recently I seem to see an explosion of these people and it is an ugly sight. These people seem to feel that they are entitled to a life of luxury in their old age. They seem to have this sense that such a life is due to them because they have ‘worked hard’ and ‘played by the rules’, though their hard work does not come close to the difficulty of the work done by most poor people.

This increasingly vociferous and obnoxious group of elderly people seem to feel that they deserve to retire to a life of endless golf and travel and restaurant meals and cruises and card games and all the other symbols of the good life. I do not begrudge them these things but very few things annoy me more than the spectacle of such well-to-do retirees in their retirement complexes complaining about their taxes going towards improving the conditions of those much less fortunate than themselves. They recoil with horror at the words ‘socialism’ and the ‘welfare state’ without realizing how much they themselves benefited from such policies in the past, and do so even now in the form of Medicare and Social Security.

The health care debate brought out some of the worst in this crowd of greedy old people. Some of these people were adamantly against the idea of expanding Medicare for all and other forms of expanding health care access to everyone because they feared that this increased pool of people able to seek treatment might mean longer waits for them to see a doctor. So in order to hoard the benefits of Medicare just for themselves, they were willing to sacrifice the chance for others to get any treatment at all. I am fed up with hearing them complain about the ‘doughnut hole’ in covering prescription drug costs, especially since a single-payer health care system (that they oppose because it is ‘socialized medicine’) would have eliminated that problem. Such people make me sick.

Sam Smith highlights this hypocrisy:

Reading all the articles these days about the fate of capitalism and socialism brings to mind that Virginia good old boy, Jimmy Jenkins. Jimmy went to college on the GI Bill and bought his first house with a VA loan. When a hurricane struck he got federal disaster aid. When he got sick he was treated at a veteran’s hospital. When he was laid off he received unemployment insurance and then got a SBA loan to start his own business. His bank funds were protected under federal deposit insurance laws. Now he’s retired and on social security and Medicare. The other day he got into his car, drove the federal interstate to the railroad station, took Amtrak to Washington and visited Capitol Hill to ask his congressman to get the government off his back.

One of the reasons I detest the so-called ‘tea party’ movement is that its ranks, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, seem to be full of just such people, those who are older, richer, and mean-spirited, who want to hold on to their own benefits while cutting those that they no longer need but serve others.

[D]espite their anti-spending rhetoric, Tea Party supporters told pollsters that two of the federal government’s most money-consuming programs, Social Security and Medicare, are worth the cost to taxpayers (maybe not a surprise, given the Tea Partiers’ average age).

While the Tea Partiers take pains to avoid appearing racist, they’re still operating at the nexus of class and race. This seems to have reached a head with healthcare reform. The UW survey’s director, Christopher Parker, summed it up this way: “While it’s clear that the Tea Party in one sense is about limited government, it’s also clear from the data that people who want limited government don’t want certain services for certain kinds of people. Those services include health care.” (my italics)

They do not seem to care if public education and public services deteriorate, as long as the lawns and golf courses in their retirement communities are well manicured.

These people are hypocrites of the worst sort. They take for granted all the benefits that society has provided them, and that they enjoyed when they were starting out in life and needed them, and now think that they made it on their own and are quite comfortable demanding that they be no longer available to future generations. They preach the virtues of the simple life and hardship, but it is only for others. And because this group is wealthy, noisy, and votes disproportionately, they get endlessly pandered to by politicians and covered by the media, breeding in them an even greater sense of entitlement. These people are a menace to the well being of society, disproportionately sucking up resources that should be distributed more equitably to the elderly poor, the sick, children, and young people starting out in life.

Such old people should count themselves lucky that they were able to work all their lives in jobs that enabled them to have a comfortable retirement, unlike many poor people who worked as hard or even harder than them but lived a life of constant worry and stress from paycheck to paycheck, trying to make enough money to feed and shelter their families and give their children a decent education. It is the latter people who really deserve a worry-free retirement to at least partially compensate for the hardships they endured all their lives.

And spare me the justifications for the self-centered attitude of greedy old people based on the hardships they allegedly experienced when they were young. Even if you did have a hard life earlier and had to struggle to get to where you are now (though that too is often exaggerated in hindsight), that still does not justify your current greed and selfishness.

So listen up, you well-off old people! You do not seem to realize that you are the ones who should complain the least. We are all lucky just to be alive at all. To have lived long lives in fairly good health and without serious deprivation is to have been extremely lucky. To want to hold on to your privileges without sharing those benefits with people who have never enjoyed them is to be piggishly greedy. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

So shut up with your whining.

/End of rant


  1. Matt G says

    These people climbed the ladder of success (a ladder they did not build), and then pulled the ladder up after themselves. The worst kind of hypocrisy.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    because this group is wealthy, noisy, and votes disproportionately

    It’s that last one that’s the kicker. None of the politicians would give two shits about old people if they didn’t vote. Young people moan and whine about the way the world mistreats them, but when you say “and who did you vote for?”, they look at you like you asked them if they ate dogshit for breakfast. They say things like “if voting changed anything they’d make it illegal”, or “they’re all as bad as each other”, and walk past the polling place to get to the pub. Meanwhile their grandparents put the date in their diaries, walk down to the polling place, put their x in the box next to the person who’ll do as they want, and go collect their pensions.


    If you don’t, you get Brexit. You get Trump. You get, in short, fucked. VOTE.

  3. lakitha tolbert says

    #3 sonofrojblake says:

    Thank you for adding this!

    A lot of young people simply do not understand that they need to vote for at the very least some kind of harm reduction! I vote for Democrats as a means of harm reduction, and the Democrats know that and count on me voting for them for just that reason. If there was anyone else to vote for that would actually win and then get the things I want to be done, I would vote for them, but Democrats are what I got to work with. I don’t love the Democrats, but I hate the Republicans more because of the active malice they have engaged in toward everyone who isn’t them.

    I vote for Democrats because they at least are not actively malicious towards the queer community and Black and Indigenous people. But I dislike them because they are willing to let the Republicans be at their absolute worse, and not check them or hold any of them accountable, because what those people are doing doesn’t directly affect their lives, and they benefit by people voting for harm reduction.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Greedy Old People -- hrrmm, that suggests an acronym…

    Sprawled across three counties in central Florida lies perhaps the largest and most famous retirement complex anyway, known as “The Villages”. News site The Intercept has just published an interesting angering report about an attempt by residents to reclaim a degree of citizen control over municipal finances there, and how the Villages developers and the state’s political machinery responded.

  5. mordred says

    @3: Now that reminds me of how the moderate success of Germany’s latest right wing party finally motivated my sister to vote for the first time in her life some years ago. Before that it was pretty much, as you described , “doesn’t change anything”, “they’re all the same”, but I think it was really mostly “don’t care, to much work”.

    So there I was , teaching a 40 year old woman how voting works…

  6. says

    OT: The vertical scroll-bar was absent from this page until I logged in. Before that, the only way I was able to scroll down was via my laptop’s touch-screen feature. Not sure what the problem is there…

  7. rockwhisperer says

    I was chatting with a wealthy friend who is in her late ’60s or early ’70s recently, and somehow we got onto the topic of heath care. She’s distressed at the idea of “Medicare for all”, understanding it as a catchphrase for affordable health insurance for everyone in the US, and insisting that it’s a terrible idea, because she believes it will limit her and her husband’s access to health care. A tax increase to pay for it wouldn’t bother her, but the idea that she couldn’t get in to see her docs as often as she wants really troubles her.

    We use the same large, regional health corporation for most of our healthcare, although we live far enough apart that we don’t use the same clinics. That corporation has pushed its clinics to increase the number of patients that clinics serve, and in the last half-decade it has become more and more difficult to see a specialist or even a primary care doc in a reasonable time frame, even though they’ve added doctors and other providers right and left. I suspect my friend’s concern is being exacerbated by that situation, but the truth is that the region where we live is growing, and there are simply more people in need of health care.

    My point is that older people have reasonable concerns that need addressing. This does NOT mean that some kind of well-subsidized health insurance for everyone is unnecessary, not at all, and I’m disappointed that my friend, who is usually a rational thinker and whose politics are liberal, is so driven by fear on this one topic. But if wealthy retirees like her feel this way, what hope is there to change the minds of the people that Mano is ranting about, who really don’t see the point even of paying taxes to support a good health outcome for everyone?

  8. consciousness razor says

    They recoil with horror at the words ‘socialism’ and the ‘welfare state’ without realizing how much they themselves benefited from such policies in the past, and do so even now in the form of Medicare and Social Security.

    It’s worse than not realizing that they also benefit from those, which would “merely” constitute a remarkably high degree of ignorance about their own circumstances and their own firsthand experience, since with the exception of a relative handful of extremely bewildered people, they all know that they’re getting such welfare benefits. That isn’t their actual problem.

    Of course, some don’t pay much attention to all the details (not hard to believe), but almost all know at least the basic facts that they receive checks in the mail and so forth. In any case, as implausible as it may be that they simply don’t realize that, (which is of course a good reason to doubt this explanation is correct in most cases), to the extent that this really is true of some, then that would just mean it’s due to their ignorance rather than greed.

    What’s especially remarkable though is that they benefit more than poorer retired people do in our system (i.e., not just in the past but currently as well), and they’re generally not less aware of that fact as the benefits increase either. They know it varies with income, they know about the multitude of caps and credits and loopholes and such designed for wealthy people just like them, and they know that they do in fact take advantage of many such aspects of the system which are much less available (if at all) to poorer folks. All of that has always been much more a part of their world than it ever was for poorer people. It’s not an accident or a coincidence or an innocent mistake. Over the years, the system was very meticulously crafted and refined by these very same people to work in exactly this way (i.e., for their own benefit and not to help those in need) because they’re a bunch of greedy assholes.

    So, it would be awfully hard for them to not put these very obvious puzzle pieces together but instead conclude the opposite of what they should very easily understand: that they’re somehow getting less from the system than poorer people who they know are purposefully offered very little help. There just isn’t good reason to think they’re really that oblivious about everything.

    What they’re doing is voting as if they want to keep things that way, even though it’s obviously greedy. Although we should try to give people the benefit of the doubt and make the most charitable assumptions about them (within reason), the ones we’re talking about jusr don’t seem (as I said) to have left us a lot of space for anything more charitable than plain old greed. I take it that that is their problem, not ours.

    If they had been voting as if they were clueless about that stuff, then we would not expect their voting to be as correlated with their wealth as it actually is. They would not be making the greedy choices so consistently.* And we probably would’ve had a different conversation to start with, possibly one about how greed doesn’t seem to adequately explain their voting patterns, just as in reality it doesn’t seem like a reasonable inference from their behavior that it’s best explained by their incredible ignorance regarding their own circumstances.

    *To be clear, it’s not just about purely money-related stuff like the size of a benefit check, tax credit, etc. As rockwhisperer pointed out in #8 (although it came with a diagnosis of fear and irrationality), they are also greedy about how valuable their benefits are to them in terms of their own access to healthcare and doctors, things like convenience, and all manner of stuff along those lines. They know some aren’t getting what they need, yet that is how they prefer it – they’ll tell you so – compared to losing anything in the long list of privileges which they reserve for only themselves and those most like them (i.e., other rich people who are doing all the same crap). Whatever might inspire it (fear or what have you), that is certainly still a clearly articulated expression of a deliberate choice to be greedy. I don’t think we need a different word for it. It’s just that the shit they’re greedy about isn’t always expressed in a number of dollars (at least not explicitly), because that’s not generally how people think about literally everything that matters to them.

    It is the latter people who really deserve a worry-free retirement to at least partially compensate for the hardships they endured all their lives.

    First of all, it’s not like there are people who “really deserve” things and then a bunch of others who don’t. That’s not a real thing. People have different needs, depending on their circumstances, and we should help them (as much as we can} whenever they have such needs. What you said, which suggests judging their supposed “worth ” to decide how happy you’ll feel about yourself having offered help to someone who is in need of it, is something else.

    Tossing that aside, since I can, it’s also not really about some time ago in the (possibly distant) past. We’re talking about people who have less and need more at the present time, which is why, at the present time, they should get an appropriate type and amount of assistance. If they needed such help before but don’t need it anymore at the present time, then that would not be a coherent reason why they should get it anyway.

  9. Dunc says


    So, it would be awfully hard for them to not put these very obvious puzzle pieces together but instead conclude the opposite of what they should very easily understand: that they’re somehow getting less from the system than poorer people who they know are purposefully offered very little help. There just isn’t good reason to think they’re really that oblivious about everything.

    I think you’re assuming an unwarranted degree of rationality there. People are perfectly able to genuinely believe all sorts of obviously contradictory and nonsensical stuff, to the extent that it takes quite a bit of active effort to prevent it -- and people seem to get worse at that as they get older. On thing that’s particularly notable is that people have a remarkable ability to come up with creative ways of rationalising things which are personally benefical too them, without realising that that’s what they’re doing.

  10. says

    Malcolm Gladwell did an enraging podcast episode about how golf clubs manipulate the tax systems so that they pay property taxes that are a pittance instead of what any other business would pay. Fuck golf and fuck golfers.

  11. consciousness razor says


    I think you’re assuming an unwarranted degree of rationality there. People are perfectly able to genuinely believe all sorts of obviously contradictory and nonsensical stuff, to the extent that it takes quite a bit of active effort to prevent it — and people seem to get worse at that as they get older.

    Well, I’m not sure what to tell you. I think I gave a pretty satisfactory explanation in my previous comment.

    What seems unwarranted to me is this fanciful tale that most of them literally don’t know some very basic stuff about their own lives, like the fact that they receive welfare benefits in various forms.

    The degree of “rationality” required for that kind of stuff is close to minimal, assuming as I am that most of them are:
    (1) cognitively normal
    (2) adult
    (3) human beings
    (4) from the planet Earth
    (5) who’ve been in the US for more than a few years

    Altogether, none of that’s meant to assume much in the way of rationality, just to weed out various other groups of people (or things) that we’re simply not talking about at the moment.

    And besides, I don’t see how we’d be making careful, reasonable, warranted assumptions by claiming (against all the evidence I’m aware of) that they simply don’t know about checks arriving in the mail and so forth. I mean, we know they are in fact depositing the checks when they come, and it seems difficult (to say the least) to explain how these people do that so regularly with those checks without even knowing of their existence. Are they hallucinating? Is it some kind of mass hypnosis or collective delusion? Something else? Since that’s a pretty wild thing to have to explain about millions of otherwise normal people, I’m pretty sure I still do want to keep my bare bones assumptions rather than having to use yours.

    Still, you tell me how often you think it actually happens that their brains fail in this very specific and very dramatic way. (And this is not merely that it arguably or conceivably could happen to someone, given what you suggest we know in general about how people sometimes are. I mean how often it actually is happening in the real world, to an extent that it would invalidate some of the argument.)

    Whatever tiny amount that may be, fine: I have no problem conceding that fairly insignificant chunk of the wealthy US population is a small exception. Then, we’ll probably never have to worry about it again, and the point still stands about the vast majority of regular people.

  12. Dunc says

    Of course they know about checks arriving in the mail and so on. They just don’t think of the checks they recieve as “welfare”. It’s a simple syllogism: “welfare” is what those people get, we are not those people, therefore what we get is not “welfare”. They’re not defining the term in the same way that you are.

  13. lanir says

    I think there are at least some signs that things will change for the better but probably not this decade. Millenials don’t seem to be getting more conservative as they age at the same rate earlier generations did. I guess years of conservative freak-out reaching a fever pitch of one-upsmanship don’t generate universal appeal. Who knew? 😛

    Probably doesn’t hurt that the jobs and housing markets have been pretty terrible for them. Me too for that matter and I’m a bit older than they are.

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