Possibly in the top ten things that drive me crazy: Pundits who pretend retirement of the Baby Boom generation is somehow a surprise. Fareed Zakaria is the latest, and his title is one of the dumbest. In a recent article entitled "The Baby Boom and Financial Doom", Zakaria takes liberals to task for daring to criticize Pete Peterson while ignoring the impending doom of baby boomers.
Only, he's dead wrong. Our generation, the so-called Baby Boom generation, already took the budget hit for our massive costs when we retire. Not only did we pay for our parents, but we've also paid for ourselves, and it's really not our fault that lawmakers have short memories and shorter fuses. But that doesn't stop Zakaria, who writes:
The facts are hard to dispute. In 1900, 1 in 25 Americans was over the age of 65. In 2030, just 18 years from now, 1 in 5 Americans will be over 65. We will be a nation that looks like Florida. Because we have a large array of programs that provide guaranteed benefits to the elderly, this has huge budgetary implications. In 1960 there were about five working Americans for every retiree. By 2025, there will be just over two workers per retiree. In 1975 Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid made up 25% of federal spending. Today they add up to a whopping 40%. And within a decade, these programs will take up over half of all federal outlays.
Some argue that Peterson has been banging this drum for years--decades --and yet the grim reaper has not arrived. But we have postponed the problem by borrowing heavily for three decades, and there is a limit to how long we can keep increasing debt, which now stands at 100% of GDP. The budgetary strains are already apparent. Federal spending on everything other than entitlements and defense has been steadily shrinking for decades. Cities and states are in a downward spiral. A recent report from the National Governors Association points out that Medicaid is now the single largest item on state budgets and has grown by over 20% each of the past two years. As a result, spending on everything else is being slashed, from police and poverty programs to public education.
Once again, I reiterate: These numbers are no surprise. The whole reason many of us were screwed on our Social Security retirement date was to account for the large numbers of retirees. Here's one thing we weren't counting on, however: Being terminated and never rehired beginning around age 50 or so. The rates of contribution were raised in the 80s in order to anticipate our retirement while making sure our parents also retired with some safety net under them.
In his apologetic for Peterson, Zakaria once again restates the usual mantra of the rich: In order to keep the safety net, we have to slash big wide holes in it.
"I want to strengthen the safety net for the poor. But to do so, we have to reform entitlements, because they are simply not sustainable in their current form," Peterson says. "The elderly population is doubling, and health care costs are rising rapidly." His foundation is making the control of health care costs its No. 1 priority. "But we need to start making changes soon, because the longer we wait, the more painful will be the eventual changes," he says.
Cleanse your palate and read Nancy Altman's counterpoint:
The Social Security surplus that began to accumulate in 1984 was planned and designed to be drawn down as needed to supplement FICA revenues and high-earner taxes to meet the boomers' projected benefits. So, that expected program development is not a sign of prospective collapse. We are fully capable of winning the battle of the baby boom bulge.
Obamacare is a start toward reducing those health care costs, but the whole premise assumes that Social Security and Medicare are programs for the poor. They're not; they're programs for everyone.
My questions for Peterson and Zakaria: Why shouldn't this country spend a larger portion of its budget on the people, given that the people made those contributions and funded current retirees' benefits along with their own? Second, perhaps we should be considering the cost side of things rather than the benefit side. Why, for example, should those of us unfortunate enough to be born in a large generation be penalized for that with cuts, while income inequality is at its greatest margin since the 1920s?
Finally, why should any of us agree to have pain inflicted upon us at the recommendation of a billionaire who has never for one single day understood what it feels like to be the ones who pay for everything, while being shamed for expecting to receive what we paid for?
Someone needs to fill these guys in on history and specifically, that no one fell asleep for the last 40 years while baby boomers were aging. They were happy to profit from us for all these years. Now they're complaining? Meh.