Social Security and Medicare were nice ideas.
Anyways, that’s generally how politicians get and stay elected: putting out nice ideas – things that make people feel good, like the government loves them.
But in reality, Social Security and Medicare were terrible ideas.
I’ll not join in the all-too-easy federal government bashing… not right now. Everyone has his or her opinion about how well the government runs things. The reality is that the government taking people’s money and promising to save it for their retirement is just a terrible idea.
As a general rule, no one is more interested in taking good care of their money and their own well-being than the individual.
But the hard truth about our entitlements is this:
The government has run out of our money.
The $16 trillion (or is it 17 now) federal debt is NOTHING compared to our estimated $86.8 trillion in unfunded liabilities – aka. “How much we’ve promised to pay out in Social Security and Medicare, MINUS how much we will forseeably collect in payroll taxes for those entitlements.”
But this problem is not the only problem with this problem. I mean, this is a multi-tiered problem.
Tier 1: ACTUAL ENTITLEMENT. The Baby Boomers paid into these entitlement systems for decades! They should be entitled to their money!
Tier 2: IGNORABLE INCOMPREHENSIBILITY. $86.6 trillion is such a huge number, we can’t fathom it. Heck, I can barely fathom $1 million. Much less $1 billion. Who can even think about $1 trillion? And then when you realize that each extra trillion (the distance between $1 trillion and $2 trillion) is not just one little number, but a million millions. And we have 86 of those. Like I said, unfathomable. And because of that, I think we tend to put $86.6 trillion into the same category as unicorns. We can talk vaguely about them, but we can hardly be convinced they actually exist. How could they?
Tier 3: POSTPONABILITY. Kicking the can has replaced baseball as America’s favorite pastime. We make the false assumption that if we’re keeping things going right now, we can surely keep them going later. So we just think, “We’ll fix it later. Heck, maybe our government will win the lottery!” or “Maybe Obama will donate from his STASH!” or some such other nonsense.
…is staring us in the face. But it’s hard to make eye-contact with the person who wants to tell you what you don’t want to hear.
We need to take dramatic, permanent steps. We need to eliminate the promise of Social Security and Medicare for my generation. Truly, all that will require is simply owning up to what will already be the case. There’s no possible way this entitlement system is sustainable. Or more colloquially, my generation might simply say, “We’re screwed.”
Fine. We’re screwed. Honestly, I can accept that. I can accept relinquishing payroll taxes for the rest of my life without hope of ever seeing that money again, in order to bring this nation to some semblance of financial stability. What I can NOT accept is relinquishing those same taxes while the government maintains its empty promises that I’ll someday see that money.
But the second step is to alter the current entitlements. We don’t need to leave people hanging out to dry who are already retired and who really need their social security money to make it month-to-month. But we need to take hard looks at who is getting entitlements and how much they’re getting. We need to take other cost-saving steps, such as the Republicans’ suggestion that the government simply issue block grants to states, and allow states to distribute Medicare as they see fit. But in reality, we ALL need to start feeling the pain of our politicians’ (who WE elected) corrupt, foolish, pandering decisions. We all need to acknowledge that the Sixteenth Amendment to our Constitution gave our federal government power we should never have given it. We need to accept the loss, grit our teeth, and begin paying our debts.
In reality, many of those who are now receiving entitlement benefits vote Republican and call themselves conservative. But what their elected politicians did was far from conservative (Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II ALL grew government spending). It was wasteful. It was oppressive. It amounts to thievery from future generations. I, and my children, and likely my grandchildren will be paying off the debts our government incurred to create New Deals and a so-called Great Society. That is, if the nation can stick around that long.
[On a side note, I'm beginning to believe that the political landscape of our population is changing. No longer will the main differences between the only two parties be how they feel about homosexuality and other peripheral social issues and how they choose to spend their ill-gotten gains. I believe a new philosophy is emerging: one that embraces liberty. One that could be called fiscally conservative and socially "liberal." One that would rather spend its time ensuring Americans' freedom than spending Americans' money and meddling in social issues like marriage. I hope this new liberty-minded group proves a powerful force in American politics soon. I think it has already begun to.]
It’s high time we admitted the New Deal and the Great Society (oh yeah, and the Iraq War and all the other sickeningly costly military games our country has played since World War II) were colossal failures. And it’s time each of us shouldered the burden, and doubled down on our determination to pay off this debt. We must resolve to never let this happen again.