Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Baby Boomers, Entitled?
Having arrived at early stage "geezerhood," this cartoon made me smile the other day. Our generation has made waves ever since the end of World War II, because there were so many babies made after the fathers returned from war.
New elementary schools were built to contain us. Then middle schools and high schools burst their seams to accommodate our burgeoning numbers. A draft was instituted to fight a war in a country nobody had ever heard of -- Vietnam -- because there was an ample supply of young Americans. It was easily the most hated and wasteful war (aren't they all?) ever waged. Those of us with a modicum of intelligence found ways to avoid that war altogether.
We protested against authority. We lived through the sixties with abandon and self-indulgence. We rebelled, we wore flowers in our hair (well, some did, not all of us), and our generation was responsible for assassinating John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, Martin Luther King, and we grew to love murder and violence more than our own mothers' milk it seemed.
We initiated bloated budgets for colleges and universities. We prompted government education financing plans, then we defaulted in record numbers in faux gratitude to a giving welfare state that made it possible for us to be well taught.
We launched industrial waves and bubbles throughout our illustrious careers as baby boomers. We lived way beyond our means. Savings became passe. Easy money and debt financing was the norm of the day. More homes were needed as we grew into young adulthood. but instead of filling those homes with a new and responsible generation of replacement Americans, we filled them instead with "stuff." We forgot the most valuable things aren't things.
We didn't reproduce enough children to keep the grist mill of greed turning and thriving. We self-sabotaged by reducing the numbers of taxpayers who could support us in our old age.
We've now reached a point where the birth rate has dropped off the edge of the table, barely high enough to replace a mother and a father. There just aren't as many people paying into the Social Security Trust Fund as there are people now receiving (or soon to receive) benefits out of the system. The trends for the future do not look promising. In Russia today there are cash incentives for those willing to reproduce more children, because they realize (too late probably) that zero population growth was not a wise fiscal policy after all.
This is one of the hot potato political issues no one wants to take on. Fact is, no one even wants to define whether Social Security is "an entitlement program" or not.
We baby boomers paid good tax money into the system for decades in anticipation of having something there for us when we approached retirement age. The current rules state you are eligible to begin drawing benefits on your 62nd birthday if you paid in enough to the system to qualify. All you need to do is register on line.
Because we're living longer than ever before (thanks to the generosity of our fellow Americans who have funded Medicare through their payroll deductions), we will likely outlive the old actuarial probabilities under which benefits were structured and our "guaranteed" government Social Security checks that can be electronically deposited like magic every month until death will go far beyond what most of us paid in.
I'm at least willing to acknowledge the problem in simple terms, more than most politicians will admit.
Most in my generation will tell you they are "entitled" to receive their government sponsored retirement check, because, dag nabit, we were taxed to qualify for it and, dad burnit by golly, we're entitled to collect it when we reach geezerhood status.
So, if we classify Social Security as an "entitlement" so be it, but truthfully it's not "something for nothing" until our benefits go beyond what we paid in plus interest. At least that's how I do the calculations.
There's a lot of talk about socialism these days. Let me say this about that. If you for one minute think we are not already a socialist country, having adopted the socialist agenda one bite at a time for the last century, then my friend, I have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you (dirt cheap, I might add).
Speaking of Medicare and Medicaid (not to mention Obamacare), all these "entitlements" are bought and paid for by a massive government sponsored redistribution of taxes extracted from the pocketbooks of hard-working Americans so the less fortunate among us may be blessed by the largess of the taxpayers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administers Medicare, the nation's largest health insurance program, which covers nearly 40 million Americans! And Obamacare insures those ranks will grow, attempting to mandate coverage (ruled unconstitutional, but pending a final SCOTUS ruling). Medicare is a Health Insurance Program for people age 65 or older, some disabled people under age 65, and people of all ages with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure treated with dialysis or a transplant).
I have no idea what Obamacare is really going to cost on top of what Medicare and Medicaid is already costing, but I have a feeling it's going to be a very big number. As I stated, we baby boomers are always making waves whenever we move through the demographic nozzle.
Am I "entitled" to have those generous subsidy programs because I am part of the entitled "landed gentry" of baby boomers? Does the younger generation of Americans owe me anything because of my newly attained "geezerhood" status? Do I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in my old age because I live in America and I've worked hard and paid my way without complaint? Do my children and grandchildren and unborn great-grandchildren owe me adulation and adoration because I've left the world a better place for them than the one I inherited? Do they owe me one red cent for my existence?
Our parents would have said, "Hell, no!" That's who they were.
And we would say, "Hell, yes!" Especially if we live in Wisconsin and we're part of a public employee union.
My generation is an embarrassment compared to the "Greatest Generation" of my parents. They saved the world from Nazism and fascism. They fought bravely and sacrificed much as the children of the Great Depression. When there was nowhere else for the world to turn for help, American G.I.s invaded Europe on D-Day to put down the persistent oppression of Hitler and other dictators of their day. Fearlessly, they answered the call. Their wives and children remained behind to work three shifts day and night in factories to build the implements of war. The government offered debt then, "war bonds," to finance the war, but the bonds were bought by Americans. When the war was over they came home, rebuilt their lives on the knowledge that freedom would be vouched safe for their children who could live an existence without the threat of the loss of freedom in this land.
And my generation? What of us? What will be our claim to greatness? That we recklessly spent our inheritance? That we ran up unsustainable deficits and debt that will never if ever be repaid? That we lived as though there were no tomorrow, and never a day of reckoning? That we lived in homes we did not build with our own hands, ate from the abundance of harvests we neither sowed nor nurtured, that we drank from wells we never drilled, that we drove chariots filled with refined crude oil we purchased from the house of Saud and other dictators who despised us with borrowed money from the Chinese when our own resources laid untapped beneath our feet because we were determined to generate wind, solar and other "green energy" resources to fight a fictitious political global warming boogieman?
Let me answer all those questions this way: When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, they left without a Social Security card clutched tightly in their fists and without demanding their entitlements from a government sponsored retirement safety net complete with the finest medical care delivery system the world has ever known.
Naked and penniless came I into the world, and I'm likely to leave the same way. Everything in between is just detail, most of which will be unheralded by those my generation leaves behind. Too pessimistic, you say?
My faith resides in much more certain outcomes beyond all the entitlement programs to which I feel anything but entitled. The sooner my generation awakens to that reality, the sooner we'll be able to grapple with the task before us. We need to stop being spoiled brats whining about what we think we are entitled to receive but never will because we have taxed ourselves into oblivion without an extrication plan.
We are guilty of generational theft. We live on borrowed light, borrowed money and borrowed time. . .
My generation is entitled to reap the whirlwind of our poor choices. And we will. May God have mercy upon us, and may we never receive that to which we are entitled.