A radio show I heard recently referred to an observation from the author Kurt Vonnegut, who long ago suggested that the U.S. government create a new cabinet post called “Secretary of the Future.”

The czar would predict what the country needs to do to prepare for 20 to 50 years out. The show’s host asked the audience for topics that would most likely contribute to the country’s health.

Christian Schnettelker - Flickr
Photo Credit: Christian Schnettelker/Flickr

My idea focuses on the current dilemma of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which, if not dealt with creatively, will doom the country’s financial future sometime in the next five decades.

So the first job of the Secretary of the Future is to name a new Secretary of Retirement. (To be frank, although the radio conversation went on to discuss the future of bitcoins, retirement security, while not too sexy, is way more important.)

This new secretary would focus on how to serve retirees and those preparing to retire, as well as proposing ways to preserve their lifestyle into retirement.

Since the total of 401(k) accounts, IRAs, pensions, health savings accounts, annuities and other retirement savings is much larger than all the accumulated wealth of the 1%, why shouldn’t these current and future retirees have their own department?

Do you know who is overseeing that multi-trillion dollar pot of cash? Is it the Department of Labor, the Federal Reserve, the SEC, Health and Human Services, state insurance departments or the Treasury?

It’s really some of all of them plus others and, in a way, none of them, because no single agency is overseeing the trends and threats to the programs that should be strong and available to help you protect your future.

The new secretary would be thinking about: What do our constituents need and want? How will they retire with confidence?

As I’ve said in previous discussions, people experience only four possible life-statuses in retirement:

  1. Alive, well and functioning.
  2. Alive and disabled.
  3. Deceased, with spouse alive.
  4. Both deceased.

The Secretary of Retirement would look at retirement as a continuum, instead of four distinct situations with no relationship to one another. The brainpower concentrated in the federal government, together with support from the private sector, could figure it out.

Here’s an idea to start with:

Let individuals buy into Social Security and create more secure lifetime income, taking advantage of the more favorable purchase rates that could be available in that system. Have that income increase if the individual is disabled or eligible for long-term care.

These and other ideas can move us closer to solving the country’s retirement crisis – a perfect fit for the job description of the next Secretary of Retirement.

For those who are interested in the original broadcast, you can listen to it below: