Silence, Selfishness, and Ignorance

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Let's pause to praise Robert J. Samuelson, one of the few Washington pundits (apart from reason's own syndicated Jacob Sullum) who is willing to wander outside the political 40-yard lines. For example, Samuelson, who usually writes from an economics angle, was about the only mainstream columnist who correctly characterized the tobacco settlement as a wealth transfer from the middle- and lower-middle classes to the state and a gaggle of lawyers. Today, he addresses federal prescription-drug benefits, attempting to include in that discussion the generation that will have to pay the bills.

Welcome to the era of baby boomer politics….The prototype of this politics is the Medicare drug benefit, which—although it's probably the largest new spending program since 1965—is flying through Congress.

We baby boomers (I am 57) are involved—through our silence, selfishness or ignorance—in a conspiracy against our children. The right way to do a drug benefit would have been to use it as a lever to force a broader review of retirement policies … By this bargain, the burden on our children of rising retirement costs might have been tempered, though not reduced.

Samuelson includes in his indictment the agenda-setting press, "led by
baby boomers," which, he writes, "regards new retirement benefits as 'progressive' and dissociates them from higher future taxes or deficits." He even predicts likely expansions of this self-serving boomer "progessivism."

NEXT: Killer Weed

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  1. so it goes for a generation raised by collectivists

  2. It’s ok, most of them will be dead by the end of the 2030s, then the rest of us can enjoy the next couple centuries in peace.

  3. Does anyone else ponder at what sort of connection their might be in some boomers often heralding their parents as “the greatest generation”, and these sorts of things?

    One is set to wondering if at least a _little_ (sarcasm) to do with it is the hope of setting up a tradition of respect of elders as they finally see the value in it (seing how as they are now at the time of considering themselves, and being considered, elders), and a bit of a moral cop out – I’m honoring my father and mother, after all, so please don’t hold how much I’m screwing my children against me.

  4. Of course when it was someone from MY generation (Gen-X) saying these things about the boomers ten years ago, it was quickly dismissed as being nothing more than selfish whining from those who “don’t know anything”.

    I guess Robert Heinlein had it right when he said “Being right too soon is socially unacceptable.”

  5. weren’t the boomers also refered to as the “me” generation?

  6. I’m really happy about being taxed in order to pay for Warren Buffet’s prescription drugs.

    “I’m old! Gimmie!” – Grandpa Simpson.

  7. lets not be too quick to knock collectivist thinking here. i mean, here you are referring to the actions of the AARP as epresentative of millions.

    its ridiculous but to blame it all on the baby boomers greed is naive; check out howard dean, whose supporters are mostly young’ns, who wants a more extensive bill.

  8. Does Samuelson think that people younger than him aren’t going to get old and retire?

  9. David 2,

    So if lots of people say it, it must be right?

    Bitchin’ about the Boomers is old and annoying. What generation hasn’t voted their pocketbooks?

    That said, I agree with the first part of Plutarck’s analysis, except I doubt it’s so consiously contrived. But feeling your own mortality may very well lead you into greater respect for you elders. Hell, maybe David 2 will stop sniping at Boomers once he’s their age! 🙂

    Whatever one’s gripes about Boomers, their sheer numbers make them a political force (especially because older folks traditionally vote more) and a big problem for the economics of Medicare. And the new regs just make it worse.

  10. Does Samuelson think that people younger than him aren’t going to get old and retire?

    Not until the system is flat broke at least, which at the going rate is a fair assumption.

  11. I don’t see what’s so groundbreaking or dangerous about this column or about Samuelson’s characterization of the tobacco lawsuit. Mainstream conservative columnists talk about this kind of stuff all the time.

  12. Not until the system is flat broke at least, which at the going rate is a fair assumption.

    Too late; the government already owes itself upwards of $25 Trillion for entitlement programmes (that sort of debt qualifies as “flat broke” if I’m not mistaken). That’s not included in any sort of debt total I’ve seen. How’s that for “creative accounting?”

  13. This, coupled with the fact that the Boomers are soon going to start yanking their 401k funds out of the market, is surely going to have a huge impact on the economy as I move toward middle age (or am I already there?). I can’t really blame them for the impending doom – I’d probably be just as concerned with my own well being at that stage in life. That said, I’ll be expressing my expectations of government (upon retirement) with a different rationale: “I want my money back!”

  14. Boomers will be yanking their funds out of 401(K) accounts, so this new scheme will help prop up the companies who spend a lot of money of health care benefits now; it will be a windfall for many large companies who can put the savings right to their bottom lines and prop up their stock prices. Jut in time for people to cash out.

    Essentially, the boomers see the writing on the wall: many large companies can’t afford to pay haelth care as a retirement benefit, so they are guaranteeing themselves one before the companies cut the benefit.

    It sounds like six of one, half a dozen of the other, but this just puts added stress on places like nursing homes who already are on iffy ground waiting for Medicare payments. Nursing homes will only get worse for those who can’t pay for all their health care out of their own pocket, which means many of them will likely close and the old folks will have to find some place to go, most likely their kids’ homes. (An inconvenience most boomers have been able to avoid with their own parents.) But since the kids will be taxed to kingdom come, they won’t be able to have their own homes and will instead be living with their parents longer anyway, thus the boomers will become landlords for their adult kids, trading their rental income for “hospice”.

  15. “Didn’t you wonder why you were getting checks for doing absolutely nothing?” – Bart

    “I figured cause the Democrats were in power again.” -Grandpa

  16. “The boomers are an unusually self-indulgent generation” blah blah blah I say a group of people that big ain’t any better nor worse than any other and you’re a bigot to take such sentiments seriously. Not that indulging yourself is inherently wrong, anyway. At the expense of others sure, but the boomers didn’t invent Social Security or Medicare. Thanks to their numbers and the new drug benefits (pushed by liberals of all ages), they WILL create the biggest problems those programs have faced. I’m sure if you were in their shoes you’d turn down benefits for the sake of the children.

  17. “the new drug benefits (pushed by liberals of all ages)”

    Liberals of all ages … and stripes, be they Republocrats or Demopublicans.

  18. Silence …

  19. “So if lots of people say it, it must be right?”

    Where did you come by that conclusion fyodor? I say “someone” and you turn it into “lots of people”.

    Personal snips from fyodor aside, though, I agree that the boomer generation is the 800-pound social gorilla, they have BEEN the 800-pound social gorilla, and they will continue to be the 800-pound social gorilla until they start dying off in the next few decades. They are self-centered, but then again which generation wouldn’t be? They ARE in for a very rude awakening in the next few years, though, when the services they depend on start failing. And I don’t know which group I feel sorry for more… the boomers, or the generations that follow (including my own).

    As for respecting elders… I would only respect the fact that they are old, they quite often still think they know everything when they don’t, and they should never expect to receive respect from others if they aren’t willing to give respect.

  20. Anon 0426:

    Good point. The issue keeps coming up of American business challenging the Canadian National Health in the WTO. Since it is generally the largest corporate employers who provide private health insurance benefits, socialized medicine effectively transfers this cost to the state, and provides a competitive advantage against companies that are having to pay their own health insurance. The effect is to cartelize the provision of health insurance to employees, and remove it as an issue of cost competition between firms. The so-called “prescription drug benefit” will act on exactly the same principle in America.

    And it will be funded with a monstrously regressive payroll tax, just like you already pay for SS and Medicare, for buying patented drugs at monopoly prices 20, 30 or 50 times the cost of production.

    How about a *free market* solution–stop enforcing their damn patents, which are nothing but state-guaranteed monopolies?

  21. “How about a *free market* solution–stop enforcing their damn patents, which are nothing but state-guaranteed monopolies?”

    Well, this “free market” solution would also apply to any property rights, wouldn’t it? I mean, isn’t my “ownership” of land just a state-guaranteed monopoly on access to that land? What about my ownership of the inventory in my store? The state will guarantee that you can’t get access to my inventory unless you pay me my asking price, exactly the same way the state guarantees that you can’t get access to patented products without paying the asking price.

    I leave for others the long-term consequences of removing any incentive to engage in the research and development of new drugs, or new products or inventions of any type, by eliminating patent protections.

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    DATE: 01/25/2004 04:58:23
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