Dec 18, 2017

Someone still receives a soldier's pension from the Civil War

Amazing story about US entitlements in a recent episode of EconTalk (a):

Russ Roberts: The Civil War ends in 1865 ... that's 152 years ago. And yet, today, in 2017, or at least when you were writing your book, there is still someone receiving a pension from the Civil War. Now, a Civil War soldier I guess could have been 18, or 17 – I guess they could have lied about their age – it could be 16. But we're now – that person, 152 years later, would have to be 168 years old.

So, no human being that we know of in modern times has lived to that age. So, it seems to defy logic that there could be anyone still receiving a pension based on their Civil War service. And yet, we have the story of the great Irene Triplett. So, tell us about Irene.

John Cogan: Yes. A truly remarkable story about how Congress, when it legislates entitlements, very often cannot see where these entitlements will go.

So, Irene Triplett is – I think she's 87, perhaps 88 this year. And she's still alive. She is the daughter of Moses Triplett and his wife, who was named Elida Hall, and eventually Elida Triplett. But, Mose – actually he was a Confederate soldier during the initial years of the Civil War. And he decided that he would switch sides, near the end of the War. And then, when Congress eventually granted disability pensions to virtually all Civil War veterans, Union veterans, Moses received a pension. In 1924, Moses, who was at that time 78 years old...

Russ Roberts: And should be about to lose the pension. Because, he's going to die. And that's it. 1924 – that would be a long time after the Civil War.

John Cogan: It is. So, he married Elida Hall. And Elida was 28 years old at the time. And these – what we call these May-to-December weddings were quite common during the period. But, as a consequence of her marriage to Moses Triplett, she qualified for a survivor, a widow's pension. And so she collected the widow's pension. And then, in 1930, they had Irene as their firstborn. And Irene then collected a Survivor's Pension, when her mother passed on. And so, that's the story. And here we are, 152 years later.


Russ Roberts: Do you have any idea what Irene Triplett's benefit check is these days?

John Cogan: Yes, I do. I can't say too precisely, but I think it's a rather modest sum. I think it's around $72 or $73 dollars a month. And so, it's a very modest benefit.

Russ Roberts: Because they made a mistake – from Irene's perspective, they never indexed it for inflation.

John Cogan: That is correct.

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