It’s All About Entitlements

Robert Samuelson writes in Newsweek:

“The aging of America is not just a population change or, as a budget problem, an accounting exercise. It involves a profound transformation of the nature of government: commitments to the older population are slowly overwhelming other public goals; the national government is becoming mainly an income-transfer mechanism from younger workers to older retirees.

“Consider the outlook. From 2005 to 2030, the 65-and-over population will nearly double to 71 million; its share of the population will rise to 20 percent from 12 percent. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—programs that serve older people—already exceed 40 percent of the $2.7 trillion federal budget. By 2030, their share could hit 75 percent of the present budget, projects the Congressional Budget Office. The result: a political impasse.”

Samuelson is pointing out a problem that we’ve known about for a long time now. FDR’s creation of the massive Social Security entitlement and ponzi scheme set this in motion and made it inevitable. However, Samuelson’s proposal is, to say the least, overly optimistic:

“As an antidote to this timidity, I propose that some public-spirited sugar daddy (the MacArthur Foundation? Warren Buffett?) sponsor a short book. A possible title: “Facing Up to an Aging America.” Six leading think tanks would be invited to participate: three liberal—the Brookings Institution, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Urban Institute—and three conservative—the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.”

I’ve seen no evidence that good books are capable of getting a significant number of people to face up to reality. The Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation are both good think tanks, but most people just couldn’t be bothered.

The fundamental problem is that solving the looming entitlement crisis is going to require people to take on more personal responsibility. Too many people just aren’t interested in having to worry about their retirement, health care, and other things that are “tough choices.”

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