Government Spending

Don't Trust Anybody Under 65

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At Truth-Out, Dave Lindorff girds the Baby Boomers for their last battle, the defense of big Social Security paydays:

What we showed back then in our youth and our formative young-adult years was that when our interests were on the line, as they were with the draft, or when we saw a gross injustice, as was the case with Jim Crow, we knew how to fight politically. I'm not suggesting that the people born in the decade and a half after World War II are particularly radical, but I am suggesting that when this age cohort gets riled and the right issue or issues sets the spark, we've got the spirit and experience to take that struggle to the streets and the halls of Congress. And both our personal interests and our sense of justice are certainly on the line when it comes to the growing attack on Social Security and Medicare…

My prediction: As the number of Boomers nearing or entering retirement soars, and the number anticipating or signing up for Medicare soars over the next few years, we will see massive national campaigns grow around not just saving these programs but expanding and improving them.

For the record, the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965. Given that the Baby Boom is generally considered to have begun with the end of World War II in September 1945, and given that in 1965 only the states of Georgia, Kentucky, Alaska and Hawaii allowed voting by citizens under the age of 21, it's fair to conclude that the Baby Boomers had nothing to do with the end of Jim Crow.

Life ain't easy for a girl named Suze.

That having been said, I think that in the unlikely event a president decides to take up the flag that President George W. Bush dropped in the heat of battle, Lindorff's prognosis will prove accurate. Leave aside the question of whether there is or ever really was a politically homogeneous Baby Boom generation. There are just too many people receiving benefits for any attempt to reduce Social Security payouts to become popular within the next decade. (Beyond that time, there's an outside chance at best, but if time does not stand still for Suze Rotolo, it will not stand still for anybody.) The only reforms possible are marginal penalties and denials of service inflicted on Americans currently working and not yet eligible for benefits. Raising the retirement age is the obvious lever, and having been born after the dispensation of the fullness of times (i.e., after 1960 and thus ineligible to receive until age 67) I don't see why we can't jack that baby way up.

If the Boomers were capable of the kind of collective thought Lindorff posits, they would realize that Social Security reform is not a threat but a chance for the boomers to get one last bite at the apple. A coherent boomer lobby would move right now to create a "full retirement" age of 70 for anybody born after whatever year everybody agrees was the beginning of Generation X (in my experience that year keeps shifting depending on the age of the statistician). They would also hike the partial-benefits age on current workers, which for some reason has not been increased since my dad's time and is still a sprightly 62. That should be at least 68. Finally, they would create a new post-1960 category for estimating delayed retirement credits—ratcheting the current yearly rate of increase from its current 8 percent back down to the original 5.5 percent created for people born in the 19th century. That would make future payout projections much rosier.

This is politically feasible. My team will never have the votes. It even has an intuitive appeal: God only promised you threescore and ten; after that you're the government's problem.

In fact, that AARP is not leading the charge for Social Security reform tells you that the boomers are not the engagé cohort Lindorff imagines. It tells you also that wishful thinking remains unsurprisingly popular. Once again, the economy is not Family Feud. It doesn't matter what the survey says. It matters what reality is.

Back in the 20th Century, Reason's own Mr. Mxyzptlk immortalized the moment that members of the don't-trust-anybody-over-30 generation began to team up with their parents against their children:

The costs of "national crises" are always paid by the relatively young. Those of us who were born at the tail end of the baby boom or later lived through the shift from the Me Generation to the We Generation, a stroke of luck that inspired maximum cynicism. The sudden reverence for the elderly, as with all things related to the boomers, seems overly self-interested and sanctimonious. Things were fishy enough when the same folks who exclaimed, "Don't trust anyone over 30" in the '60s only a few years later offered up Logan's Run, with its revisionist message that even actor Michael York should be allowed to live into a fourth decade.

Can anyone seriously doubt that—given the boomers' penchant for sucking up all the shrimp and steak in the buffet line of life—they are setting up the rest of us not merely to fork over ever more generous portions of our wages to fund their Social Security and Medicare (hey, why shouldn't face lifts and Viagra prescriptions be covered?) but to deny us any last crumb of joy that comes simply from being younger than them? We have, after all, spent a lifetime being castigated for following in the boomers' footsteps and being found wanting: They were idealistic, we were cynical; they did drugs to open the doors of perception, we did them just to get high; they dodged the draft out of high moral purpose, we simply forgot to register for selective service at the post office; they had the Manson Family, we had the Menendez Brothers; their congressional impeachment hearing was about a president fucking the country over, ours is about blowjobs; and on and on. And now, in a stunning, cunning gambit, they are laying the groundwork to rob us of our last remaining generational birthright: the simple, unfettered pleasure of some day dancing on their graves.