The hard truth about entitlements

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.

Maybe money will start growing on trees!

The solution…

…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.

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7 Responses to The hard truth about entitlements

  1. Mark Bales says:

    read a book one time THE FORTH TURNING it said that one kind of generation makes another kind of generation like the care free generation that thinks life is a party but things go bad and along come the hero generation that have to get real and fix every thing. Hello hero.

    • I appreciate that perspective. To be completely honest, it’s personally difficult for me to chalk this up to a generational thing, simply because I feel like that could easily be a cop-out for my generation, or subsequent ones… kind of a “Well, you guys screwed us, so now it’s hopeless” attitude. And frankly, I see that sometimes. And obviously I know lots of Baby Boomers who I love and respect, and to whom I would be doing an injustice if I were to lump them in with “all the rest.”
      That said, I think it’s unmistakable that there ARE generational trends. Regardless of what past generations have done, I hope, and I’ll do what I can to ensure, that my generation leaves a freer America behind when the last of us shuffle off this mortal coil!

    • Drop by and see us some time, Mark!

  2. thelyniezian says:

    1. To what extent would you prefer it if such government assistance was provided by the states more so than federal government?

    2. If you think government should be not so much “meddling in social issues like marriage”, can I at least ask what your views are on the issue?

    3. How is this relevant this side of the Atlantic (i.e. the one you’re not on)?

    Personally I guess there are similar issues with the welfare state, NHS over here but I’d be less than keen on abandoning them outright. You will not see any strong moves to do so from my fellow Brits. I guess part of it is down to things like the ageing society and the fact that the West can’t rely on a strong economic position any more, plus the fact that some of these things have ballooned out of control. Question is how to reform them so they work, which I don’t think my present government is getting at all right in its execution, if not principles.

    And I’m glad you mention the military games which are wasting money- I think a far worse waste of both money and lives than any welfare state. I think I recall hearing military spending figures hide the true cost of the recent wars, plus any secret spending….

    • Good questions. I’ll give the best answers I can.
      1. I would like it better from the states. That’s not to say I’d really like it that much, but honestly, I think it would be managed FAR better at the state level. And the competition between states is the brilliance of our governmental organization. If New Jersey decided to do it, and New York opted not to, it would be easy to compare the two and see if the system works well. It’s the marketplace of ideas! ADDITIONALLY, many states (mine included) have constitutional amendments that mandate a BALANCED BUDGET. Our national government does not have that, and so it just spends money willy-nilly (to borrow a phrase from you folks across the pond…I think…) and then we find ourselves with trillions upon trillions of debt. Finally, there’s so much less accountability at the federal level. And honestly, I think one of the reasons for that is geography. But that’s a whole other can of worms…
      2. What are my views on marriage? I believe marriage was invented by God. I believe He made a man, then said it was not good for that man to be alone, and then made a woman from the man’s side. Then I believe He caused them to desire to be joined back together in the physical, emotional, and spiritual oneness that is marriage. I do not believe government created marriage, therefore I do not believe government should have any say in the matter. Government should enforce contracts. And when marriage needs to look like a contract (for example, sharing insurance benefits, hospital visits, inheriting money, etc.), that should be enforced as a separate item by the government. And I think anyone should be allowed to enter into a contract with anyone else, as long as both parties are consenting. Regarding gay marriage, I have no desire to regulate the language other people use about their relationships. I may not agree with another person’s personal choices, but that doesn’t mean I want to pass a law that further alienates me from that person for no good reason. Things like the Federal Marriage Amendment and the Defense of Marriage Act only serve to create a more divisive society, not a more genial, free one.
      3. I think the concepts of liberty and limited government are relevant everywhere and ought to be pursued everywhere. I don’t know of many British voices that advocate for the concept, and I regret to say that you blokes have sent a couple of your fascists over to work in our news media. It’s a shame we haven’t taught them yet about liberty, but I think it’s because we ourselves are forgetting about it. Anyhow, I urge you to watch Daniel Hannan. That man is a beacon of liberty’s light in a place (the EU) that has learned to live in ever-increasing darkness. He’s got plenty of YouTube videos that brilliantly articulate all the nuances of liberty Europe needs in sometimes the most mundane specific situations.
      Regarding your thoughts on the NHS, I genuinely understand, and I think that healthcare is the area that has become the most convoluted by governmental meddling. Abandoning nationalized healthcare would certainly be a monumental step for England. I’m not sure the country will ever take that step voluntarily, without a lot of painful economic and cultural kicks in the pants. But that’s the problem with progressivism. Its adherents want change, often for its own sake, but at some point, change begins to look an awful lot like “Going back to what it was we were doing 100 years ago.” In other words, I think progressives often stop being progressive once they get their pet project accomplished, and then they become rabid conservatives (in the sense that conservatism is the disposition that resists social change).
      FINALLY…
      I pretty much agree with you – our recent wars have likely cost far more lives than our recent social programs. And that’s why I condemn both parties for their insanity. They spend on their favorite programs, without regard for America’s stability or financial future. They “shoot first, ask questions later” with everything – with WMDs in Iraq (that were never there) and with the monstrosity of a health care bill about which Nancy Pelosi said, “We have to pass it to find out what’s in it.” I think 95% of our legislators should be fired on the spot, and should probably spend a good six months (or more, for some!) behind bars for the harm they’ve done to our country. Neither party currently has anything to offer by way of real solutions to fix our ailing country. And that’s why I’m ready to see a Third Party rise up.

      • thelyniezian says:

        Re: the NHS and progressivism- perhaps you are right about them becoming conservatives, but I think one must understand that in context “going back to what we were doing 100 years ago” would probably be a step for the worse, unless it could really be made to work. I think in the meantime I am not as opposed to reforms as the die-hards I know, who are worried that any contracting out to private organisations will mean patient care is put ahead of profit motives, for which the former is but a means to the latter end; also, for what can be agreed on in patient care being a priority over bureaucratic targets, one explanation which I recall being cited for the recent scandals involving unnecessary deaths.

        The problem is that the old guard social democrats are probably hankering back to the idealism of the post-war years, when we genuinely thought we had a way out of the problems that had preceded that time. At the time they worked, though- but the economic climate has shifted to the point where the old solutions don’t work anymore, plus, they have been perverted beyond all recognition (would Aneurin Bevan be turning in his grave if he knew what had become of the Welfare State he pioneered, I wonder?) and more changes must be made. What those will be remains to be seen. But I still see some role for governement subsidy at least for the bare essentials, be it a different model (like that in Singapore maybe- state subsidises, but nothing is entirely free at the point of use?) or simply individuals taking responisbility for their heath and not needing treatment as much. There may be a role for for-profit entierprise, but hopefully charity in hte main.*

        On war, and wasteful spending thereon: glad we agree, I would sooner see this happen first.

        On marriage, and state involvement therein: I think that in the light of the “cultre war” and the inability for anyone to agree on how marriage should be defined and put intolaw, perhaps a libertarian approach where government is not directly involved, where civil marriage as we know it is replaced by something else not so clearly defined in law, may be the only way out. It would create tremendous difficulites in terms of things like tax and family law, though, and there is an argument to be had for recognising marriage as fundamental to society. At the same time, “when Adam dug and Eve span”, where was then the registry office, the justice of the peace and the marriage certificate? Do we need bureaucracy and legistlation to recognise the sanctity and importance of marriage?

        *Examples: in the UK already, the lifeboat service is private. There are also charities which provide ambulance services to supplement the NHS e.g. St. John Ambulance. On a TV news report showing an air accident in South America, I noticed the ambulances seemed to be provided by the Red Cross, which I understand to be a charitable concern funded in part at least by donations. Charities seem to form a lot of medical care in third world nations, probably many a lot poorer than South American ones- they simply could not afford to fund a government service through taxation..

      • Good stuff.
        I think it’s ultimately about a fundamental question: Are individuals and private organizations more compassionate than government?
        I think the answer CAN be “Yes.” Though I don’t think it MUST be. But neither do I think the answer MUST be “No.”
        In other words, it’s a gamble either way. There’s the chance that, if the government stops taking money from people and redistributing it in the form of “free” healthcare, that some people will suffer or die of lack of treatment. But on the other hand, there’s a chance that those people will find available to them new treatments and alternatives that could only have been exposed by a free healthcare market.
        I do agree that people need to take better care of themselves and stop NEEDING the healthcare system so much. We’re all just a bunch of sickos anymore!
        That said, I think we’re seeing more and more examples of how for-profit companies can bring a LOT of good to society. Some of them do it through revolutionary, beneficial products (that they only made because they knew they could sell them for a profit!); others do it through giving of their profits to charitable causes. I’d like to see more of both of those, and less governmental control.

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