Generational Warfare

Old-age entitlements vs. the safety net


In 1964 a young Bob Dylan released "The Times They Are a-Changin'," an anthem that defined what would shortly become known as "the generation gap." With a mix of sympathy and sneer—"Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land / And don't criticize / What you can't understand / Your sons and your daughters / Are beyond your command / Your old road is / Rapidly agin'?"—Dylan described an unbridgeable gulf in values, styles, and aspirations between the rising baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, and their elders, who had managed to survive the depredations of the Great Depression, World War II, and the swiveling hips of Elvis Presley.

Flash forward half a century, and the boomers who once sang along with Dylan have become the reactionary elders, clinging to their power and perks at the literal expense of everyone younger. There's a new generation gap opening up, one that threatens to tear apart the country every bit as much as past confrontations over war, free love, drugs, and sitar music. This fight is about old-age entitlements and whether the Me Generation will do what's right for the country and stop sucking up more and more money from their children and grandchildren. 

Social Security and Medicare, which provide retirement and health insurance benefits for senior Americans, generally without regard to need, are funded by taxes on the relatively meager wages of younger Americans who will never enjoy anything close to the same benefits. From any serious fiscal or moral viewpoint, and particularly for the sake of helping those truly in need, Social Security and Medicare should be ended. 

The demographic math is irrefutable: Entitlements are killing the safety net. They should be replaced with social welfare programs that cover all citizens, regardless of age, but only those who are too poor or incapacitated to take care of themselves. Focusing on those truly in need instead of automatically shoveling out larger and larger amounts to well-off senior citizens is the best way to avert looming fiscal catastrophe and restore some morality to an indefensible system. 

Gourmet Cat Food

The entitlement state, whatever its intentions and past successes, is like a starter home that has been expanded and renovated so many times that it has no architectural coherence or structural integrity. The country has grown much wealthier and much grayer since the starter home was built. Whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ObamaCare) supersedes Medicare or simply adds to its costs, publicly funded spending on retirement and elder care will skyrocket as baby boomers start retiring en masse.

But why should we spend increasing amounts of money —as a proportion of GDP, in absolute dollars, or as a percentage of government spending—on a group of people simply because of their age? To hear elected officials and representatives of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) tell it, Social Security and Medicare are the only reasons older Americans don't have to eat cat food or choose between prescription drugs and heating their homes.

"Without Social Security," Vice President Joe Biden asserted to a Florida crowd in March, "nearly half of American seniors…would be struggling in poverty." Biden was merely channeling Lyndon Johnson's remarks at the original press event announcing the passage of Medicare. "No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine," LBJ said as he handed former President Harry Truman the very first Medicare card (Truman had "planted the seeds of compassion" during his unsuccessful attempt while president to create nationalized health care).

Johnson was equally quick to pitch the benefits of entitlements to the younger generation, whose anger over Vietnam would stop him from running for re-election in 1968: "No longer will young families see their own incomes, and their own hopes, eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents, and to their uncles, and their aunts." Getting kids off the hook remains an alleged selling point to this day. "Retirement is multigenerational," Biden said in his speech. "It matters to your children if you have a decent retirement. Every one of you—it matters to your children. Because if you don't, your children feel obliged to step up."

In a 1999 address to the National Education Association's Women's Equality Summit, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton was even more explicit in celebrating her own generation's freedom from the burdens of traditional caretaking responsibilities. "Were it not for Social Security, many of us would be supporting our parents," intoned the author of It Takes a Village. "We would take them in; we would do what we needed to do to try to provide the resources they required to stay above poverty, to live as comfortably as we could afford. And that would cause a lot of difficult decisions in our lives, wouldn't it?"

This rhetoric about entitlements freeing the young ignores the fact that they are hit with the cost of supporting their elders in every paycheck. Furthermore, when repurposing lines first uttered a half-century ago, today's politicians are also ignoring some very good news: The oldest among us are in remarkably good shape compared to graybeards of previous generations. 

Using consumption data, economists Bruce Meyer of the University of Chicago and James X. Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame have shown that people 65 and older have much lower poverty rates than most other demographic groups and that these rates have fallen sharply over the past 50 years. Writing for the New York Times website in November 2011, Meyer reminded us that "even over the past 10 years, those 65 and older with the lowest income are now living in bigger houses that are much more likely to be air conditioned and have appliances like a dishwasher and clothes dryer." Eighty-three percent of elderly households own a home, and 86 percent own a car.

Seniors have more stuff and more wealth. According to 2010 combined data from 15 federal agencies on population trends, economics, and health issues, seniors' average net worth as of 2007 had increased almost 80 percent during the previous 20 years. The same sort of improvement has not spread to all age groups. In fact, the data show that younger Americans are losing ground. 

In 1984, reports the Pew Research Center, households headed by people 65 or older had 10 times the wealth of households headed by people under 35. By 2005—before the Great Recession hit—the gap had increased to 22 times, and by 2009 it was 47 times. In 2010, 11 percent of households headed by people 65 or older were officially under the poverty line. For households headed by someone under 35 years of age, the figure was 22 percent. The last time younger households were less likely to be poor than elderly ones was back in 1983. Conditions for older Americans have improved remarkably since Social Security and Medicare were established.

That older households are wealthier than younger ones is not surprising, and it is no cause for concern in itself. Elderly Americans have had a lifetime to amass savings and assets and to earn money from interest and investments. By the time they reach 65, most Americans also have lower living expenses. The kids are out of the house, and the house is more likely to be paid off (or to cost less due to inflation). In their new book The Clash of Generations, economists Lawrence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns show the cost of living for households of different sizes and ages varies dramatically. The cost of living for a married couple with children ages 6 to 17 is at least twice the cost for a retired couple. And these numbers underestimate the gap between retirees and married parents since they don't include expenses such as saving for college, orthodontic treatment, and vacation time.

This is not to say that some seniors aren't seriously struggling. But to assert that younger Americans benefit from having the government take money from their current wages and give it to their parents obfuscates obvious points about where that largess comes from—and whether it will exist when today's 50-, 40-, or 30-year-olds retire.

Entitlements Forever

Given their failure to successfully pass a run-of-the-mill annual budget for the last three years, it's not surprising that Congress and the president lack the courage to confront the apocalyptic structural problems of old-age entitlement programs. Social Security and Medicare together represented about 37 percent of total federal outlays in fiscal year 2011, according the Congressional Budget Office. In 2020, absent the sort of changes routinely dismissed by members of both parties as grotesquely inhumane and politically impossible, that figure will jump to 44 percent. Based on current trends, the two old-age entitlements will account for half of all federal outlays by 2030. 

Social Security's various trust funds, according to its own trustees, will be depleted of all reserves by 2033 and won't be able to take in anywhere near enough cash to pay its obligations. Medicare's major trust fund, which covers hospital benefits, is scheduled to run dry in 2024. In addition, both programs already contribute to the deficit due to massive borrowing that will only get bigger and more expensive. Contrary to common belief, the various trust funds for Social Security and Medicare aren't filled with gold coins or even the money collected from taxpayers over the years. Instead, they are filled with IOUs or promises by the government to pay back whatever has been taken. By law, the trillions of dollars in taxes collected above what was needed to pay for benefits has been invested since the '80s in interest-bearing government securities. Of course, the federal government doesn't have that money anymore because it's been spent on defense, stimulus, education, green jobs, and more. Yet the trust funds are not purely an accounting fiction, as is widely claimed; they are actual assets that the government has borrowed against and, as such, represent liabilities. 

These programs, then, are the very definition of unsustainable. They pay out more than they take in and cannot exist without constant tweaks, fixes, and adjustments—all of which point toward a future of higher taxes for workers and smaller or nonexistent benefits for retirees.

Yet when leading politicians deign to mention Social Security and Medicare, it's never to seriously confront their disastrous trajectories, but rather to guarantee the programs' survival while impugning the barbarous motives of their electoral rivals. Presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney—routinely assailed by Democrats as a heartless plutocrat who will turn old people out in the streets—stresses that Medicare is sacrosanct and blasts President Barack Obama for "taking a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it."

Social Security was created in 1935 as a way of supporting Americans in their old age. The first checks were cut in 1939. The program is widely regarded as the signature achievement of the New Deal. Conservatives such as Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan groused about Social Security throughout the 1950s and early '60s. During his famous 1964 nominating speech for Goldwater, Reagan asked, "Can't we introduce voluntary features that would permit a citizen to do better on his own?…We are against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program." 

Yet by the 1980s, President Reagan called preserving "the integrity of the Social Security system" the "highest priority of my administration." In an era of bitter partisanship and division, "one point that has won universal agreement," Reagan declared, was that the entitlement "must be preserved." He tweaked the system by increasing payroll taxes and slightly increasing the age at which benefits would kick in for people currently paying into the system. He left the benefits of current retirees untouched. 

Medicare, which subsidizes health care for the elderly, joined Social Security in 1966 as the nation's other entitlement specifically for seniors. Both programs have changed substantially over the decades, covering ever more types of people and conditions and expanding in cost and scope beyond the wildest imagination of their initial backers. When Medicare started, its supporters estimated that the program would cost $12 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars in 1990. The actual inflation-adjusted price tag came to $107 billion.

The two programs share a technical problem: There is no way to reliably pay for them as they currently exist. The taxes—and the people who will generate those taxes—aren't there now, and there is no reason to believe they will magically appear anytime during the next half-century. Social Security is already in cash-flow deficit, meaning current taxes are not enough to cover current payouts. Each month the accounting surplus built up over years past, held as government securities, is drained a bit more. The payroll taxes earmarked for Medicare (1.45 percent of wages collected on both the employee and employer side), together with the premiums and state transfers, never fully covered the program's costs even before the massive, unfunded expansion to cover prescription drugs enacted in 2003 under President George W. Bush.

But as serious as the two programs' fiscal flaws may be, the more basic problem is ethical. When Reagan negotiated what he called "a new lease on life" for Social Security in the early 1980s, he said the reforms would guarantee nothing less than the "present and future well-being of every man, woman, and child in America, and generations yet unborn." That's not only gross political overstatement. It fudged all questions about whether living children and "generations yet unborn" should during their leanest years as workers be forced to pay for a system that Reagan himself had assailed just two decades earlier.

The Myth of Mandatory Spending

Social Security and Medicare are part of what's called "mandatory spending," or federal spending that is automatically continued under current law without the need for annual reauthorization. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which provides health insurance for the poor, comprise by far the largest portion of mandatory spending in the budget; other items in the mandatory category include federal retirement funds, food stamps, veterans' benefits, and the earned income and child tax credits. The other major category in the federal budget, known as "discretionary spending," incudes items such as homeland security, most military spending, farm subsidies, and aid to schools. Discretionary spending is what gets haggled over in annual budget negotiations. In 2011, mandatory spending accounted for 56 percent of total outlays while discretionary spending accounted for about 37 percent. The remaining 7 percent of outlays is mostly net interest.

But the terms mandatory and discretionary are misleading at best and mendacious at worst, as all spending is open to negotiation, to increases and cuts. If President Obama is at all serious when he repeatedly describes the government's fiscal trajectory as "unsustainable," addressing old-age entitlements must be part of any attempt to reduce expenditures.

In 2011, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the country spent $725 billion on Social Security, the single largest spending item of the year. The Social Security Administration says it will give checks to over 56 million Americans in 2012. While recipients include some dependent children and disabled workers, the largest bloc (36 million) is retirees. Retirees receive an average of $1,229 per month, with a maximum benefit of $2,500.

Medicare is health insurance for all people who are 65 years or older, along with a subset of younger people who suffer from dialysis-requiring kidney failure and a few other disabilities. The program costs $560 billion a year and serves around 49 million people. Medicare benefits break down into four distinct parts. 

Part A, "hospital insurance," covers in-patient stays in medical facilities (including nursing homes and some home care) and generally does not require any sort of premium payment from beneficiaries. Part B is "medical insurance," designed to replace coverage that seniors used to get through their jobs. Recipients pay a premium that ranges from $99 a month for individuals with adjusted gross incomes under $85,000 (95 percent of all recipients) to $320 for those pulling in $214,000 or more. Part C is a voluntary program, also known as Medicare Advantage, in which beneficiaries enroll with government-certified private insurers who in exchange for a flat monthly fee from the feds provide the same coverage as Parts A and B, typically throwing in extras not covered by standard Medicare, such as vision, hearing, and dental programs. Depending on various factors (such as whether the operator runs a health maintenance organization or a preferred provider organization, whether the insured wants drug coverage or no deductibles, etc.), Medicare Advantage may charge fees on top of the basic premium. Finally, Medicare Part D, which took effect in 2006 under legislation passed as part of the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003, covers prescription drugs. Premiums for drug coverage, which has a mandated annual deductible of $320, start around $25 a month and vary based on the patient's income, needs, and preferences regarding deductibles vs. co-payments.

When Social Security first started cutting checks, America was still in the throes of the Great Depression. Retirement was a rare and wonderful thing, as most people worked pretty much until the day they died (the average life expectancy at birth was 47.3 years in 1900; 68.2 years in 1950s; and 78.5 years in 2009). When Medicare was created, seniors were more likely than the average American to be poor. Although neither of those things is true anymore, spending as a percentage of federal outlays on both programs continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing down.

Because it is on automatic pilot, spending on entitlements can grow without political consequence or fiscal conscience. Between 1975 and 2000, spending on all entitlements grew at an average annual rate of 3.96 percent, while annual GDP growth was 3.27 percent. Then the ratio really started to deteriorate: Between 2000 and 2010, entitlement spending grew 5.3 percent a year while the economy managed just 1.81 percent. The Great Recession has added a bit to that disparity (Medicaid rolls tend to swell during downturns), but it's far from the whole story. The aging of the population and the expansion of Medicare to include prescription drug coverage—at a cost of $338 billion from 2006 through the end of 2011—are the major reasons entitlements grow faster than the economy. And given that the oldest baby boomers are turning just 66 this year, we haven't seen anything yet.

Who Pays?

Social Security and Medicare are paid for through a combination of specifically earmarked payroll taxes, general tax revenue, and borrowing. Under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), most workers pay 6.2 percent of their earned income in taxes earmarked for Social Security payouts to current beneficiaries (a rate that has been temporarily reduced to 4.2 percent as a means of "stimulating" the economy). Employers kick in another 6.2 percent to the same fund. Over the years, the amount of gross wages subject to the Social Security tax has been adjusted upward; in 2012 it maxes out at $110,100. FICA also levies a tax of 2.9 percent (split equally between employee and employer) to cover a portion of Medicare. The Medicare tax is not subject to a regular compensation limit and is applied to every dollar of wages.

Theoretically, total contributions to Social Security are designed to cover the full cost of the program. That is, the usual amount of 12.4 percent in payroll taxes paid by workers and employers should provide enough revenue to pay for current and future outlays. Historically, Social Security has had far more people paying into the system than drawing funds from it, so the program amassed a surplus in its trust funds that since 1983 has been automatically invested in a mix of short-term and long-term government securities. But those favorable demographics have changed dramatically.

In 1940 there were 159 workers for each beneficiary. Today there are fewer than three. Last fall Mitt Romney, whom the Obama administration accuses of wanting to "dismantle" old-age entitlements, attacked Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a Republican presidential debate for calling Social Security "a Ponzi scheme," a scam in which current investors are paid profits from new investors, not out of actual returns. "The term Ponzi scheme is over the top, unnecessary, and frightening to many people," Romney said. That may all be true, but it doesn't change the reality that current workers are indeed paying for current retirees, not for their future selves, which means that as the number of contributors falls, payouts cannot continue at the same rate. The only options are to reduce benefits, increase contributions, or some combination of both.

While life spans have increased and birth rates have decreased, Social Security's revenue has not been able to keep pace. In 2010 Social Security entered into a permanent cash-flow deficit, meaning annual payroll tax revenue is no longer sufficient to cover annual benefits. (The last time this occurred was in the early 1980s, when Congress responded by gradually raising payroll taxes and the eligibility age.) For now, benefits therefore must be partially covered by interest income from the assets in the trust funds. After 2021, Social Security will have to cash in the trust fund assets—currently around $2.7 trillion—to pay full benefits until the trust fund is exhausted.

In 2011, according to the most recent report from the Social Security trustees, released in April, Social Security raised $691 billion from payroll taxes and general revenue while paying out $736 billion in retirement benefits. The $45 billion shortfall was covered by money in the plan's various trust funds. The Trustees' Report projects that at current tax rates and benefits levels the trust funds will be completely exhausted by 2033. That's three years earlier than the projections made in 2011 and seven years earlier than projections from 2006. The day of financial reckoning is approaching with accelerating speed. And that situation hasn't been helped by the temporary two-percentage-point cut in payroll taxes Congress enacted in December 2010 to let Americans keep more of their money during the economic downturn, since Congress refused to offset the reduced revenue with benefit cuts.

Current law holds that when the trust funds are depleted, benefits must be cut to the level of payroll tax revenue. As it stands, that would amount to a 25 percent haircut or, in current dollars, $307 off the average retirement check of $1,229. Compounding the problem is that the government has already spent the Social Security surpluses to pay for other expenses. Absent tax increases or benefit cuts, all operating deficits will not actually be covered by past savings but by new borrowing.

Medicare's finances are in even worse shape. Costs are rising more quickly, and, unlike the Social Security levy, the Medicare payroll tax was never designed to fully cover benefits. Currently only one-third or so of Medicare costs are covered by payroll taxes, a fraction that will get smaller over time. All told, payroll taxes, along with dedicated funding sources such as premium payments, state transfers, and taxes on benefits, cover around half of all Medicare costs. The rest comes from general tax revenue and borrowing.

Looking down the road, the picture is bleaker still. According to the most recent trustees' report, the Medicare hospital insurance (H.I.) trust fund will run out of assets in 2024. As with the Social Security trust funds, if the H.I. fund is depleted, Medicare will by law be able to pay out in benefits only what the program collects in taxes.

Even though payroll taxes aren't enough to fund Medicare and Social Security, they impose a major burden on workers, especially younger workers, who are likely to make less money and thus pay a higher percentage of their income to support retirees who are already as a group more affluent.

Underfunding the Future

In 1994 the youth advocacy group Third Millennium commissioned a poll that is still widely quoted. One of the questions found that more members of Generation X (ages 18 to 34 at the time) believed in UFOs (46 percent) than thought that Social Security (9 percent) would be solvent when they started to retire around 2030. But even if Social Security is around when Gen Xers finally stop working, they will discover that they have put far more into the system than they will be taking out.

Last year C. Eugene Steuerle and Stephanie Rennae, researchers at the liberal Urban Institute, calculated what Americans at various levels of income (high, average, and low) and in various types of households (single or married) can expect to pay into and receive from Social Security and Medicare over the course of their lifetimes. For Social Security, the calculations assumed that individuals retire at the age when full benefits kick in (originally 65 but rising past 67 under current law) and that Medicare payments start at 65. The main findings are both highly informative and deeply dispiriting.

Consider the Social Security numbers first. A single man earning the average wage ($43,500 in 2011) who retired in 1980 would have paid a total of $96,000 in Social Security taxes and received lifetime benefits of $203,000, or about 211 percent of contributions. A single man earning the average wage but retiring in 2010 faces a vastly different situation: He would have paid $294,000 in taxes to receive benefits of just $265,000, or about 90 percent of contributions. For the same person retiring in 2030, taxes of $398,000 yield $336,000 in benefits, or just 84 percent of contributions. (Because they tend to live longer, women fare slightly better than men, but single women earning the average wage and retiring in 2010 and 2030 also face negative returns on their lifetime tax contributions to Social Security.)

The calculations for Medicare underline the point that everybody is getting more out of the program than they are paying in. Consider a single woman earning the average wage who turned 65 in 1980. She has paid in $8,000 but will take out $81,000 in benefits, or more than 10 times her contribution. The same woman turning 65 in 2010 will have paid $58,000 in taxes to receive $185,000 in benefits, or a threefold return. A single woman retiring in 2030 will have paid $87,000 to get $275,000.

Medicare is notoriously ineffective at containing costs. Champions of the program like to note that it has lower administrative costs as a percentage than most private insurance plans, but they routinely ignore at least two other points that explain why overall costs continue to spiral upward. First, Medicare wastes a lot of money on procedures that have no impact on patients. As a 2009 report by President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, then chaired by Christina Romer, put it, "Nearly 30 percent of Medicare's costs could be saved without adverse health consequences." Second, Medicare reimbursement rates to providers have proven politically impossible to cut. In 1997 Congress created "the sustainable growth rate," which tied what the government would pay for particular procedures to rates of inflation. The reimbursements went up steadily for several years until 2002, when the rate of increase in rates slowed slightly—not an actual cut, mind you, merely a decrease in the rate of increase. Since then, doctors have managed to muscle through what has become known as the "doc fix": ongoing "temporary" increases in reimbursement rates. No one seriously thinks that reimbursement rates will be trimmed anytime soon.

Social Security and Medicare thus present twin horns of a dilemma. The retirement entitlement offers nothing but negative returns for future beneficiaries, whose taxes in the meantime will need to be raised to cover current beneficiaries. And the health entitlement's costs have proven resistant to all forms of price control, meaning the system will either chew up a larger share of federal spending at the expense of other outlays, go bust, or rely on larger and larger tax levies on today's younger workers.

Old vs. Young

Social Security and Medicare were created in a very different America as a response to very different circumstances. The old-age entitlements were designed to alleviate problems related to an economy still in transition from rural agriculture to urban manufacturing and post-industrial services. Private pensions and retirement savings were relative rarities, and the communitarian dream of multiple generations living under the same roof—invoked as an ideal by some of the very people, such as Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, who champion old-age entitlements as a means of "independence" for seniors—was a routine necessity.

That's no longer the case in a country where most retirees are wealthier than the younger people paying for their benefits. According to 2010 data (the latest available) from the Bureau of Labor Statistic's Consumer Expenditure Data, the typical American 65 or older had a pretax income of about $41,000 and annual expenses of about $37,000, including $4,800 for all medical care costs they bear under the current regime (insurance, prescription drugs, doctor's visits, etc.). Those who can pay for their needs out of their own pockets should do so, not only in the name of fiscal sanity and generational fairness but because the U.S. health care system suffers mightily from a lack of pricing signals and consumer self-control.

We must reform the current system, starting now. The most obvious, effective, and just approach is to end Social Security and Medicare and replace them with a true safety net that would help poor Americans regardless of age. To the extent that seniors qualify for income supplements, food stamps, and other transfer programs, they should be added to those rolls. They can also be added to Medicaid rolls (currently about 9 million seniors are so-called double-dippers, receiving benefits from both Medicaid and Medicare). There is no reason to have separate programs for the elderly and the poor when the real distinction should be not age but ability to pay. Payroll taxes, the most regressive taxes on income, should be scrapped, freeing up huge amounts of money for Americans of all ages to spend and save as they see fit. As Americans start to think seriously about saving for their retirements, long-term investment will boom, and so will insurance planning; generations will be forced to recognize that they are connected not via impersonal and punitive payroll taxes but through shared assets and household expenses. 

The popular counter-argument—that current and future beneficiaries have paid into these systems and are thus "entitled" to Social Security and Medicare— holds no legal or moral water. In the 1960 case Flemming v. Nestor, the Supreme Court ruled that, contrary to the rhetoric surrounding Social Security, the program is not an actual retirement system in which participants maintain legal claims to the contributions they've made or the assets they've accrued. While it is terrifying for all of us to consider losing the money we've paid into Social Security, the fact is that we already have. It makes no moral sense to string along a program that winds up screwing even recent beneficiaries as measured by money in vs. benefits out. And as for Medicare, there is something wrong with perpetuating a system that doles out scarce tax dollars to recipients regardless of need. Old-age entitlements aren't a problem to be adjusted; they are a blot to be thoroughly mopped up.

The technical details and transition times for a post-entitlement country are less important than a basic principle that should appeal to conservatives, liberals, and even many libertarians: Federal aid programs should be means-tested. The welfare reforms of the 1990s provide a model. Rather than create and oversee expansive projects from afar, the federal government started sending nonmatching block grants to the states, which were given more freedom to set their own requirements and more flexibility to try out approaches tailored to their specific needs and circumstances. When the federal government gives matching grants, it creates an incentive for states to increase spending on programs regardless of effectiveness (as happens currently with Medicaid, where Washington pays about 60 cents out of every dollar spent on the program as spending rages out of control).

It is hard to know which is more depressing: the punishing and sure-to-rise price that younger Americans are forced to pay for a system that steals from the relatively poor to give to the relatively rich, or the smugness with which champions of this patently unfair system insist on its righteousness. In his March speech in Florida, Vice President Biden told stories of building a new house that included living quarters for his parents, who refused to move in. Biden explained that his parents and other seniors value their "independence" and "dignity" more than anything. His mother, he said, was representative of seniors in that she wanted to be able to pay her own way at check ups with her doctor. "She didn't want to ask her kids." 

In Biden's strange moral universe, his mom should be admired for wanting to get medical care on the dime of strangers rather than from her own family. The vice president was trying to defend old-age entitlements, but his example is the quintessence of what is wrong with the current system: It gives to those who already have much by taking from those who have little.

Back in 1964, the last year of the baby boom, Bob Dylan warned: "There's a battle outside / And it is ragin' / It'll soon shake your windows / And rattle your walls." Born in 1941, Dylan has been receiving Social Security and Medicare—both programs have mandatory enrollment—for at least four years now. In 1964 he was singing to a very different America with very different concerns. But his song of generational war, so prophetic in its day, may well prove prescient again.  

Nick Gillespie is editor in chief of reason.com and reason.tv. He is co-author with Matt Welch of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, just out in paperback (Public Affairs). Contributing Editor Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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  1. Speaking of people with delusional personalities brought upon by an intense desire to imitate popular culture, does anybody want to tell Gillespie that the Beats lost and "the Man" prevailed?

    1. Yep, he quotes pre-electric era Dylan in both the opening and closing paragraphs.

      Just wait until he hears Bringing it All Back Home!

      1. Lovely how you agree with yourself. Must save argument.

    2. Look again. The Beats became the Man.

      1. As evidenced by Dylan's "born-again" period. Incidentally, Slow Train Coming was recorded in my home area.

    3. Yeah, either that or he is a big Bob Dylan fan.

  2. Will the Baby Boomers do the right thing?

    Of course not. When have they ever?

    1. That would require them to think they were doing something wrong in the first place.

      1. ^^THIS +1000

    2. Now I feel guilty.

      As a Boomer, permit me to take this opportunity to step up, do the right thing, and publicly express the appreciation of all my generation to all you young'uns. Thank you for carrying the financial burden of healthcare for all of us fat-ass aging Boomers on your backs for most of your working life over the next 30-40 years.

      Now I know you "generation x","y","z", "millies", or whatever you call yourselves are the very generations that put Obama in office, are by extension responsible for and disproportionately support Obamacare. Since we Boomers will be the primary beneficiaries consuming the lion's share of the costs and expenses of Obamacare, Medicare, etc. and the increased burden of paying for the ACA mandate/tax, Medicare and the rest will fall on you, well... all we can do is sit back, offer our thanks and this one bit of advice:

      Don't tell anyone, but it really is a Ponzi scheme and like all Ponzi schemes, will only work for as long as more new suckers can be found to "invest" so that older "investors" can cash out at a "profit". To be clear: That would be us Boomers cashing out with your new "investments".

      So here is our sage advice for you poor young suckers - You need to get real busy making lots and lots of babies. As many as you can as fast as you can. You are going to need a lot more of them if there are going to be enough in the next generation to support you as you will be supporting us.

      In the meantime, thanks again!!!

      1. Oh, yeah, baby.
        The Whiner generations behind us simply would like to point out that we did not do enough for them.

  3. A quibble:

    Retirement was a rare and wonderful thing, as most people worked pretty much until the day they died (the average life expectancy at birth was 47.3 years in 1900; 68.2 years in 1950s; and 78.5 years in 2009).

    The life expectancy at birth is an inappropriate statistic; Life expectancy at age 18 would be far more appropriate as people who die before they enter the workforce are irrelevant from a SS perspective.

    Moreover, it's important to understand what a Life expectancy is: it merely states the age at which half of a population is going to croak.

    So if you look at the life expectancy of 40 year old ex-MLB pitchers, and arrive with a number like 80, it means that half the people won't make it to their 8-th birthday and half will.

    1. But didn't you know that before the New Deal all children were forced to work from birth by their capitalist, monocle wearing robber barons?

      1. Good times, good times...


    2. Life expectancy is a mean, not a median. So it is not the age at which half the population has already croaked; in this case outliers skew the mean downward as compared the median.

      1. No, Tulpa, life expectancy is NOT a mean. Tarran is correct, that life expectancy at birth is the age at which you're more likely to be dead than alive, given that you were born. Life expectancy at, say, age 50 is the age at which you're more likely to be dead than alive, given that you made it to age 50.

        Please note that, until the age of sanitation, *most* human beings born died when they were still children. In many places without clean water and such, they still do. Obviously, this drives down life expectancy at birth, while having only a limited effect on life expectancy at age 50. So this is why, despite having a life expectancy at birth of about 38 in the US in 1776, our nation's founders could set the minimum age to be president at 35. It's NOT the case that 35 was super elderly in 1776, as is evidenced by the age at death of most of the Founding Fathers. It IS the case that tons of children died in 1776.

        (Btw, I teach epidemiology. Breaking students of their commonsense understandings of the phrase "life expectancy"--misunderstandings that Nick Gillespie and Veronique deRugy have, as does Tulpa--is something I have to do all the time.)

        1. Your belief is wrong. See below.

          1. Smack, how do you think the "*expected* average number" is calculated? While I agree that your neatly copied and pasted definition has the word "average" in it (though I note you omitted Wikipedia's "(in the statistical sense)" following the word "expected" in your CP), "average" can mean lots of different things.

            Life expectancy at birth is NOT calculated by adding up all the years all the individuals born that year lived, and then dividing by the number of individuals in the population. Indeed, that would be sort of a trick, since it would involve knowing when everyone born in a given year was going to die.

            Instead, life expectancy calculations are probability calculations. (This is what "expected (in the statistical sense)" means.) We don't need to know when all babies born this year will eventually die to calculate the life expectancy at birth (2012), because we know the probability that in 2012 that any given baby will die in year one of life. (And we have this probability information for year 2, year 3, and so on.) Look up "actuarial tables" for more information on how that's done.

            We can then combine those probabilities to answer questions like: "given that you were born in 2012, at what age are you more likely to be dead than alive?" and "given that you had already made it to age 65 in 2012, how many years are you expected (in the statistical sense) to have left"? That's what "life expectancy" means.

            Btw, Smack, this isn't my "belief." It's my actual job.

            1. The point is: life expectancy at birth is primarily a function of infant mortality, which is irrelevant when discussing retirement ages. Someone born in the U.S. in 1900, who lived to age 20, could expect to live to average age 65.6, not 47.3 as suggested in this article. I agree with the rest of the points made in the article, but this issue of people misunderstanding the difference between "life expectancy at birth", versus "life expectancy at adulthood" is a particular bugbear of mine.

    3. Actually, it seems to me that for retirement and healthcare purposes the most appropriate number is Life Expectancy at Age 65 Years.

      Geezers who make it to sixty-five seem to have an awful knack for hanging on long past that Life Expectancy at birth number.

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    4. Life expectancy is the expected average number of complete years of life remaining, excluding fractions of a year, at a given age.

  4. Looks like Gillespie still hasn't learned that there's no hole we can't spend ourselves out of.

  5. This country has a number of fault lines that have been papered over with debt-funded entitlements. When the money runs out (and it will, it will), we can expect to see all sorts of social conflict.

    Pubsec v Prodsec
    Old v Young
    Takers v Makers

  6. The Tea Party (aka the Medicare Preservation Society) embodied this conflict with their opposition to health insurance reform.

    The Sarah Palins of the world kept calling cost controls "death panels".

    1. Of course those "cost controls" would be better off were they performed by private insurance companies who are NOT being forced to insure everyone in America whether they can afford health insurance or not, for patients who are paying them for the specific service of providing payment for their medical care.

      1. No, IPAB was strictly a Medicare cost panel.

        We need that. I get fucking angry when I see those ads for "free" $8000 scooters for Medicare patients.

        Score one for POTUS.

        1. BO was very brave to go on TV and demand that we stop giving people free shit that they don't need on the taxpayer dime.

          Or maybe that was a dream?

          1. Watch what they do and not what they say.

        2. So you chose the most cost effective life-saving device to make a point?

          Scale it 100-1. A stent is a 99-100 in value and an $8000 scooter is a 1-2. We should work on the least value quintile.

          Why approve a liver transplant for an 85 year old hepatitis victim? That would be an appropriate question.

          1. Maybe the private sector should be dealing with that question then. Via contract law, etc.

            1. I don't care if Medicare recipients pay for anything privately.

              The discussion is about Medicare and cost controls.

              Private insurers are free to control costs anyway they like with the exception of rescission.

              1. The best way to control Medicare's costs would be to get rid of Medicare. Non-existent programs tend to be very nearly free.

              2. Now that their every move is being controlled by government bureaucrats they aren't "free" to do anything at all except for exactly what the government tells them to do.

    2. So what would you call it when a bureaucrat in HHS uses cost controls to deny you a stint after your heart attack?

        1. Should we approve a guy with a stomach virus getting a porterhouse steak, when he's just going to puke it up anyway?

        2. Death Panel is just a flashy thing to call the douchenozzles who dole out what medical care you can get based on "cost controls".

          But you're right in saying fuck you to the TPers trotting their signs about leaving medicare alone.

  7. My next comment:

    Take the 12.5% of your income that goes into SS.

    If you were to stick that in an IRA, conservatively earning 5% interest over 40 years.

    And, at the end of the 40 years, draw 4% of the principal as an income. You would have an indefinite income stream of approx 60% of your original income.

    Social security sucks because it is 'invested' in govenrment bonds which thanks to the price-controls established by the fed, produce very little income.

    The argument against investing social security into the stock market is that the government then becomes the biggest stockholder and the U.S. would become an outright fascist state very rapidly under such a regime.

    1. You're correct on that.

      But the $5 trillion in the SS Trust Fund would be exhausted in six years or so.

      What would pay SS benefits after that?

      Would you drop 53 million cold-turkey?

      1. Would you drop 53 million cold-turkey?

        Yes. They are the ones that voted for the benefits without voting for the taxes to support them.

      2. Anyone who uses "SS Trust Fund" non-ironically is, shall we say, credibility-challenged.

        1. US Treasuries are the soundest investment around.

          Now in 2035 will they be? We don't know but if not we will have worse problems than poor returns.

          1. US Treasuries are the soundest investment around.

            A plugged toilet raises all turds.

            1. Thanks for the mirth. Cracks like this keep me sane.

          2. US Treasuries are the soundest investment around.

            Keep digging, shrike. US Treasuries held by the US government aren't an investment at all, anymore than the IOU I wrote myself for twice my annual income is an investment.

            1. To be fair, as long as there are new suckers investors buying them, it is a sound investment. Nobody knows when the music's going to stop playing, though.

              1. I guarantee the Fed will be around to pay off your T-Bill with freshly printed cash.

                1. Of course a can of cat food will cost $10G, but hey at least you got your money back right?

            2. As long as the feds can extract ever more money from the proles, it's a sound investment.

      3. It would revert to a regular entitlement that the government would just have to figure out how to fund.

        1. This is probably the best (only?) solution. The gov't would quickly learn that means-testing is the only possible path forward. A lot of people would get screwed in the process, but they can afford it and they made the decisions that brought us to this, so they also deserve it.

          Us younger folks would still be stuck with the bill, but it would be considerably smaller.

          1. This is probably the best (only?) solution. The gov't would quickly learn that means-testing is the only possible path forward. A lot of people would get screwed in the process, but they can afford it and they made the decisions that brought us to this, so they also deserve it.

            Us younger folks would still be stuck with the bill, but it would be considerably smaller.


            That I'm being held liable for decisions made on my behalf decades before I was born is fucking bullshit.

            Fuck the old fucks who are trying to hold me responsible for paying off their obligations.

            1. You also should "fuck the old fucks" who are responsible for the decisions made on your behalf in the U.S. education system, for creating a system that produced a lot of people who can't express themselves publicly without four profanities in two sentences.

        2. This would just remove the deception, which is a big step in the right direction.

      4. What would pay SS benefits after that?

        If SS as a universal entitlement regardless of income were phased out, the declining number of beneficiaries would have to be paid out of general revenues.

        The time to have phased out SS and Medicare as a universal entitlement was twenty-five or thirty years ago when the cracks first started showing.

  8. The only thing I can take away from this article is that reason is going to be held responsible when some old lady starts killing people.

  9. Thats kinda crazy when you think about it dude.


  10. Taking away Social Security and Medicare from only old people who don't need them will save practically no money. Everyone else needs them.

      1. Baaah baaaah.

        1. Hold the fuck on. The entire article is about how the elderly are by far the richest demographic in the US, and that the young are the poorest, and have been getting progressively poorer and poorer for decades, yet your argument is that I'm the fucking sheep because you assert that most for those on SS "need" it?

          Go fuck yourself.

    1. need != want

      Not that you're big on distinctions, but I thought I'd point it out.

      1. What does "need" mean to you?

        1. Without it I will, without question, die.

          One needs air. One does not need a fucking SS check after having the opportunity over the course of an entire lifetime to save some of what they've earned.

          Fuck you.

    2. Medicare recipients are the richest group of people out there.


    3. "Tony", I like that you make no attempt to qualify or quantify an assertion that is utterly senseless without one of those.

      Why don't you just say, "reducing taxes won't save money", or "finding shelter won't keep you dry".

      You sir, an addle-brained sophist who is too lazy to complete a thought. You probably still shit your pants just because you're too lazy to get up. It's clear you have no agenda other than to distract or annoy people. You certainly can't make a coherent argument. Why don't you take a month off from posting and try to actually learn what an argument is, and then come back and make one. It would be so much more interesting to the other people than what you currently do.

  11. Time for a remake of Wild in the Streets?

    'Cause I just saw it for the first time, and even granting that it's a "cult" film, it's just a really bad movie.

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  13. My whole life I was told to go to school, get a job,save my money , buy a house, make it nice, send my kids to nice schools, and when retirement came along better not count on the government. Social Security would probably be history. I'm 53 years old,self employed, Evil Rich because I have money in my pocket. Fuck Everyone. I didn't start that way. Get a job and work your ass off just like the old man.
    Generation Gap My Ass. Get to work.

    1. Who are you yelling at? Should I get off your lawn?

      1. Kids these days...

    2. Lol you know, my father worked his ass off too. He was a smart but ignorant Hogh School Dropout (not as a put down but the literal meaning) but you would never find a harder worker until untreated PTSD from 4 tours in Nam plus agent orange related COPD finally destroyed his ability to work and even still with him being effectively "retired" he spends all his time working on his house. What's he got to show for it? Not a damn thing, he lives off of a VA disability pension.

      Hard work is far from a guarantee of success. This is of course not a call for government intervention, there is no reason why hard work in and of itself should be a guarantee of success in life if for no other reason than being creativly lazy leads to more new discoveries than perspiration ever has but it also means we need to understand that the overwhelming majority of "poor" people were hard workers and their poverty does not make them disposable once they cannot effectively work any longer.

    3. My whole life I was told to go to school, get a job,save my money , buy a house, make it nice, send my kids to nice schools, and when retirement came along better not count on the government. Social Security would probably be history. I'm 54 years old,self employed, Evil Boomer because I don't have money in my pocket. (47% Tax on earnings)Fuck Everyone. I didn't start that way. Get two jobs and work your ass off just like the old man.
      Generation Gap My Ass. Get to work(and stop taking my earnings).

      1. This entitlement mess is going to lead to a dollar crash.

        Going Galt:

        1. Pull capital investments an go into gold or commodities that hold value, including ones you can take possession of and secure.

        2. Retire early and work for cash only if you can.

        1. Barter. Anyone producing a commodity or providing a service can barter. Build a large stock of commodity or save up a few months expense $ while making long term barter arrangements with other producers/providers. Then downsize the retail side and transition to 75% barter.

        4. Get out of blue states and set up your barter system in smaller towns in red states.

        1. #1
          Good advice, I'll need to investigate a reliable dealer for physical PMs.

          #2 and #3
          I've made a small start in the cash/barter direction. I guess I need to see if I can promote more business of that sort. Don't know if I can get to 75%.

          I'm looking at Florida. Redder than CT and no state income tax. Lower property values and taxes too.

          1. In Florida you will get fucked on insurance, both car and home. Make no mistake; as soon as they possibly can, property values will rise dramatically as will your property taxes.

            My tax burden on a small, 690 ft^2 condo in Miami was, 10 years ago, about the same as my property taxes are now. Except that now I live in KY and have a huge house on 5 acres.

            Don't let the no income tax in FL fool you. Despite not having an income tax, the tax burden is still far more than in states like KY, which does have an income tax.

            1. I appreciate the advice. FL seems to be similar to New Hampshire(which I have not ruled out) in that way.

              But I'm looking at mobile homes and inland condo's at about $25-35K. RE taxes are $600 - $700/yr. The taxes could go up 11X and still be less than what my landlord pays today. And hers will be rising too if property values rise.

              I lived in FL 30 years ago. Between bikes, buses, cabs, and friends I got by without any car. The rain was no fun, but I did not have to deal with Winter's ice and narrowed roads.

              Still, I will be sure to give KY a look. But I suspect my total tax and transit costs will be higher there.

  14. Gillespie/de Rugy make some logical errors in their attempt to blame it on the Baby Boomers.

    They by asking if the Boomers will "stop sucking up more and more money from their children and grandchildren." Then they present statistics about how "people 65 and older have much lower poverty rates than most other demographic groups".

    These are NOT the Baby Boomers. The Boomers are between 66 and 48. Only the oldest Boomers fall into the wealthy over-65 group. Most over-65's are parents of the Boomers.

    There's no reason to assume that Boomers will have the same wealth as their parents who built much of their wealth in real estate appreciation and defined-benefit pensions. Their children are less likely to experience those gains. Furthermore, the Boomers are paying higher Soc Sec taxes than their parents did. In other words, it's the pre-Boomers who are "sucking up ... money from their children ..."

    That doesn't mean Boomers are blameless. They may have been dealt a bad hand but, in spite of decades of SS insolvency warnings, most have done little to prepare for retirement. I predict more of the Boomers will "need" Social Security.

    I also predict that they'll turn those decades of warnings around to blame the government: "You've known all along that the system was broken, you did nothing to fix it, but you kept taking my money. You owe me."

    It's not the Boomers fault yet, but there could be riots when the Boomers really do retire and the $$ aren't there.

    1. rioting is for the young. I predict a withering editorial writing campaign followed by complete political submission to boomer will (200% GDP debt). Then, the young will riot.

      1. Like we will have time to. Those of us who have actually managed to find/keep a job will be too busy trying to feed our families with our meager after-tax incomes.

        Seriously, who the fuck has the time to 'riot?'

        1. The ones who haven't managed to find/keep a job.

          1. I should have completed my thought.

            Those that will have time to riot, will be rioting for more free stuff, and demanded they be taken care of as well.

            We're boned!

            1. OTOH, those with money can buy bigger guns.

      2. rioting is for the young

        And voting is for the old. I predict you're correct wrt the "complete political submission to boomer will" since those are the people who will vote in large numbers for pols who promise to keep the gravy train going.

        1. I'd have to see evidence that any boomer has ever based his vote on a pol voting to continue SS as is. No boomer I know does. In fact, most of the boomers I've been approaching retirement age with had the same fears that SS would be insolvent before they reached retirement age as all the young'ns here seem to.

          That is something that "greatest generation" voters did even when the proposed reform promised to not reduce any benefits being paid to current recipients or those close to retirement age.

      3. I don't know... George Costanza might disagree with that assessment...


    2. Uh, the boomers have been dealt the best hand in history. The problem, and it's not their fault, is that there are so damn many of them that when they hit peak retirement (number of retirees maxes out before they start to die in significant numbers) that an ever-decreasing workforce (punks, Gen-X and younger) will be left to support them.

      And this is really going to suck for the tail end of the boomers and for the punks. Because at some point they're going to stop building more nursing homes and there will be waiting lists.

      1. The problem, and it's not their fault, is that . . . an ever-decreasing workforce will be left to support them.

        No, it pretty obviously is their fault. They could have averaged four children per woman, but they chose not to have them. Now those kids aren't around to support them. The math is of their own making.

        1. No, the math is of the Federal Reserve's and Congress' making. Inflation and taxes have forced us into the two income family and fewer children.

        2. No, the math is of the Federal Reserve's and Congress' making. Inflation and taxes since 1914 have created the two parent family, with one or two children raised in daycare.

          1. I meant - created the two working parent family.
            LBJ created the one parent family.

            1. Bullshit.

              Baby Boomers lived lives that were substantially more luxurious than the lives of their parents, whether you're talking average house size, average cars per family, number of televisions per household, et cetera. They could have had less luxurious lifestyles with the extra money going into extra kids (or extra retirement savings), but they chose otherwise.

              1. Tail-ender (born 1963) here. Five kids. For most of our lives, a single-income family.

                It's always been possible. People show what they value by how they spend their time. Most boomers didn't value their kids.

                Payback's a bitch.

                1. Hah. I was foolish enough to buy into the ZPG bullshit. "We're ruining the planet with too many people! Have only enough to replace yourselves." It was all a scheme to screw over the next generations, eh?

      2. "boomers have been dealt the best hand in history." When it comes to retirement, I respectfully disagree.

        Real Estate: http://www.census.gov/const/uspriceann.pdf
        From 1963 to 1993 the median price of a new home increased just over 700%. From 1973 to 2003 it increased 600%. From 1980 to 2010 it increased about 340%. Maybe real estate will bounce back and the Boomers will see the same appreciation that their parents had, but it's not likely.

        Social Security Tax Rates: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/progdata/taxRates.html
        The Boomers are paying much higher SS tax rates than their parents.

        I'm not allowed a third link, but there are many articles on the shift to defined contribution pensions. Most Boomers are stuck with whatever their 401K/403B returns. The return on major indices over the last 20 years has been mediocre. The 10 year return is pretty good because we were in a recession in 2002 but the 5 year return is negative.

        As for the nursing home situation. I'm a late Boomer (49) and I'm hoping it works in my favor. Maybe the older Boomers will die off leaving a glut of available rooms at bargain prices.

    3. Thank you, BikeRider. The people who have been fighting any kind of changes to SS and Medicare for the last thirty years or so have been the "greatest generation" who began retiring in the 1970s and who benefitted from payouts that far exceeded their payed in FICA taxes.

      It's true that boomers will collectively collect more in benefits over their lifetimes but no individual boomer will ever collect as much as either of his "greatest generation" parents did.

  15. "The most obvious, effective, and just approach is to end Social Security and Medicare and replace them with a true safety net that would help poor Americans regardless of age."


    Who are you people, and what did you do with the Glibertarian editorial staff of Reason magazine?

    1. Sometimes you have to be practical. When something is as broken as Medicare you can't expect to fix it in a generation. The safety net is step one.

      1. The trouble is that the time to "to end Social Security and Medicare and replace them with a true safety net that would help poor Americans regardless of age" was about twenty-five or thirty years ago when the first sign of the unsustainability of the system started showing.

        But anything along those lines was instantly seized upon by the AARP as an attempt to throw poor old Aunt Maude out into a snowbank.

        1. I should have added that any such scheme would need to be phased over a number of years that would allow people to adjust to the new rules.

          If the boomers can be faulted for anything it is that they never questioned their "greatest generation" parents' socialistic views until much too late.

    2. Daily Kos is but a click away, RAL.

  16. I am 24y/o. How fucked am I and my wife?

    (My guess: almost hilariously so)

    1. I recommend you start stock-piling KY jelly now.

    2. 100% screwed, blued, and tattooed.

    3. You'll be fine as long as you can find a decent job and live your life as if you'll get nothing back from the government in your old age. True, you might spend your whole life renting and you probably will never be able to afford kids, a nice car or vacations. But hey, you'll be alive, right? That's something, at least.

    4. Based on your comment, I'd say you need to seriously readjust your concept of "doing well". For instance, let's define "doing well" as:

      1) Not actively getting shot at.
      2) Regularly eating 2 meals/day.
      3) Gasoline costs $1.18/hour, gross.

      That's how I view the world and you know what? Things are going great!

      1. Ugh, doesnt' recognize "less than", Edit:
        3) Gasoline costs less than $10/gallon
        4) Working and earning more than $1.18/hour gross

    5. You also might consider moving to another country that's not so screwed up.

  17. Nice article, Nick and Veronique. Also, props on the Terry Colon illustration; takes me back to the Suck days.

    If experience is any guide the boomers can be trusted to do what's best for them, and damn the impact on others.

    1. [Also, props on the Terry Colon illustration; takes me back to the Suck days.]

      Yeah, a scant 3 days from movie theatre carnage and you headline an article with a 1911 ACP. Loved the touch.

    2. If experience is any guide the boomers people can be trusted to do what's best for them, and damn the impact on others.

  18. My college econ proffesor's description of old age entitlements:

    Imagine a few years from now after you've graduated and gotten a good paying job. You're sitting in your house when someone knocks on your door. You open it and there's an old man standing on your porch and he's screaming at you "Give some money, you sorry little ingrate! I fought and nearly died in WW2/ Korea/ Vietnam so that you could have the freedom to pay for my retirement! And don't you dare hold out on me! Oh, and here; pay these doctor's bills for me too! Now I'm off to my nice big house in a gated age restricted community in my nice big Cadillac. See you next month, peckerwood!".

    That's Social Sec. and Medicare in a nutshell. My prediction: Grey Dawn.

    1. That cartton reminded of that little tirade he used to go on about Soc Sec/ Medicare.

    2. Except the boomers didn't fight WW2 or Korea. The generation which fought WW2 and Korea were the parents of the boomers.

      1. This was in ~1999 or 2000 (I forget which year I took econ), before the boomers started retiring. Since the boomers didn't really fight any major wars (does Grenada count?), they can't even claim the "war vet/ nearly died for you/ defeated evil" argument.

        1. They defeated the evils of poverty and drug abuse, right? Right?

        2. Boomers fought in Vietnam post 1965 or so.

          But until 1967 or 8 most of the troops were depression era or wartime babies.

          1. Actually given that the bulk of the soldiers in Vietnam were 18 - 20 year old draftees the boomers would have started appearing in theatre as soon as 1963 and been the bulk of the army by 1966. Given that US involvement in the war didn't end until 72 and that the bulk of the real fighting occurred between 66 and 71 it is fair to say that the Boomers did fight the Vietnam War.

            This article also unfairly pins quite a bit of the sins of the so called Greatest Generation on the Boomers. The fact is that the Generation which lived through the Depression and the War Years is given way too much of a pass on economic issues because they really are the ones who made a mess of things. The only real culpability the Boomers have is that they didn't do anything to fix the problem once they got into power, rather they stuck their heads into the sand, pretended the problems didn't exist and doubled down on the failed policies that created them.

            Now comes the question as Gen X enters our 40's and we start getting a little political power, most of us seem to recognize that the entitlement state isn't working, do we have the vision and courage to actually fix anything though, because if we don't, there probably be enough of a country left for Gen Y to really have a chance of fixing things.

            1. Good comment, however:

              Draftees vs. volunteers: 25% (648,500) of total forces in country were draftees. (66% of U.S. armed forces members were drafted during WWII)
              Draftees accounted for 30.4% (17,725) of combat deaths in Vietnam.

              OTOH, you do seem to be correct about the number of boomers involved:

              The average age of the G.I. in 'Nam was 19...

              I thought it was higher, I though it was closer to 25 or so (WWII was 26). That number does seem to indicate that boomers were most involved in the fighting since the major combat activity was from 1965 to 1971 or 2. Before 1965 our only troops were "advisors".

              1. Yeah I am familiar with that statistic, however I suspect a good number of the volunteers were like my father, they volunteered because they figured they would be drafted anyway and by volunteering they had at least some choice in what kind of job and which service they were assigned to (my father joined the Army with a prefered slot of aircraft mechanic after his 2 older brothers were drafted into the Marines)

  19. generational warefare over public assets is nothing new. Politicians, based on their recent lack of help with the economic mess we're in, will permit social security and medicare to utterly fail before they will "Do Anything" to properly fix the system. This is the nature of representative government and the reason it ultimately will fail. These process take hundreds of years but they are inevitable.

  20. "Yet the trust funds are not purely an accounting fiction, as is widely claimed; they are actual assets that the government has borrowed against and, as such, represent liabilities."


    This conclusion is disproved by the sentences preceding it, is intenally inconsistent, begs the logical question, and is prima facie untrue.

    Consider Joe Taxpayer. When Joes goes to the Social Insecurity Lock Box, he finds a note reading "IOU in the amount of $X, signed, Joe Taxpayer". By the logic of the quoted sentence above, Joe now has a valuable asset, which he can use as the basis of a new loan. If your grasp of economics leads you to claim that an IOU Peter writes to Paul can be the basis of additional borrowing by Peter... it's time to examine your premises.

    I'm going over to Lew Rockwell.com for a while.

    1. p.s. Is it policy at Reason never to cover the absurd obsequeience of the US Congress to Israel {i.e. Likud} and its allies over here?

      How about the *fact* that, though Jews are about 2.5% of the population, they Four out of six Federal Reserve Board governors and seven out of 12 Fed District Bank presidents are Jewish.


      Is the answer that it's 'antisemitic' to note this and simply ask wherefrom such disproportionality obtains?

      When one looks at who chairs, say, the SEC and the FDIC and commodities trading, and who chairs the council of economic advisors to the prez, and you find it's similarly Jewish... what's the 'enlightened' answer there - Jewish control of banking is an 'antisemitic canard'?

      How about the lies getting us involved in Syria and Iran, two countries which don't threaten us at all, and the absurd pro-Israel resolutions and legislation passed unanimously in our Congress, even as we cast veto after veto at the UN to protect Israel from what are objectively, unequivocably war crimes?

      Israel's always right, and anyone who says any different is an anti-semite, is that it?

      1. The point isn't that racism its cool - but that hiding from the truth as to the disproportional power of an ethnoreligious group which often have loyalty to a foreign country first isn't wise, or kind, or honest, or fair.

        And ignoring it is going to lead us into a series of neocon planned wars.

        And yes, Virginia - the neocons are disproportionately right wing Jews with ties to Israel.


        Time to speak honestly about this or simply give up on avoiding elective, blowback-inducing interventionist wars for Israel's benefit.

        As to the economy - when a group making up 3% of the population seems to be more or less running the economy and banks and we're in a huge recession and about to go to war, again... fair-minded, honest, peace and justice types [even the non-statists] need to acknowledge that the US has a "Jewish Question" because of the over-influence of that minority group in finance, media and foreign policy, and their loyalty to a foreign power.*

        *More Jewish Americans volunteer for the IDF than the American military. KINDLY spare me the 'it's just a canard' routine... it's simply not a mere 'canard.'

    2. Actually no, when Joe goes to the social security lock box he finds a not there saying ""IOU in the amount of $X, John the Tapayer signed, Joe Taxpayer legal guardian of John ".

      See Joe is not promising to pay himself, he is promising that his kids will pay him and at the moment under current law Joe's son John is legally obligated to make that payment. Sure that law can change at any time but given that the elderly have traditionally had FAR more political power than younger generations it is unlikely that the law will be changed and our kids will be far poorer than we were as a result.

  21. People are crazy and times are strange
    I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
    I used to care, but things have changed

  22. I loved the ironic way it was used as the accompaniment to the only really good part (subcontracted) of the Watchmen movie. I enjoy all ironic uses of music like that.

  23. Generational Warfare ? Today know, I read your article I was shocked!

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  24. I sure could have used the extra dough when I first started working and paying for everything on my own in 1976, but I looked down at my pay stub and saw that FICA took a nice chunk (as did Uncle Sam.) I asked my dad, "What the hell is this?" He told me that that was my insurance for retirement. "You're supporting your grandmas." I thought it was a ripoff then, but now that I'm 55, it seems like a deal to me! OK, government, end this thing, but first, give me back MY money, that I've pumped into this scam for 35 years.

  25. "They should be replaced with social welfare programs that cover all citizens, regardless of age, but only those who are too poor or incapacitated to take care of themselves."

    ....Life in the fantasy world of socialist (choom-induced) benevolence is really heart warming !!!!

    Get real Gillespie de Rugy: the current out-of-control SS disability taxpayer rip-off and the even more out-of-control OBOZO food stamp taxpayer money give-away PROVE that government run (especially, leftist governments) simply REWARD slugs, slackers, deadbeats, liars, freeloaders, losers, taxpayer-leeches, cheaters, ILLEGALS and potheads who do nothing but suck on the teat of the BIG GOVERNMENT NANNY-STATE and don't seriously address (because they can't) the actually issue of "helping the poor" and making certain that only the truly needy get benefits.

  26. Here's the OBOZO big government nanny-state at work (wasting our tax money, of course)...A MUST READ for all the delusional loonies like Nick Gillespie Veronique de Rugy...

    "2,362 Millionaires Got Unemployment Benefits"
    By Matt Cover, cnsnews.com
    August 13, 2012

  27. So, end Social Security and Medicare, who/what pays me BACK my principle (contributions) of $385,000.00, plus, my interest (4%?) on a lifetime of payments?

    I am a fairly recent 64 yr old addition to the Social Security rolls. I'd happily exchange Medicare and Social Security programs to get it. Can you get if for me?

    Many in my generation actually paid its own way. I need the money, but would exchange part of it to put all the bureaucrats and politicians in jail and end all their ill-gotten benefits. Indeed, they ought to lose, too, as that is the problem with our political system, they make a mistake and we pay...not them!

  28. So all the people who actually saved their money should be denied due to means testing and the people who spent every penny they earned throughout their life will be the ones deemed qualified? I agree something needs to be done to change the whole stinkin' system but your suggestion is ripe for abuse and also punishes those who lived frugally.

  29. Glad to see User Experience given priority over programming convenience. This is clearly the right direction

  30. While this article looks at costs of Medicare, it doesn't examine how successful Medicare is in reducing health costs for seniors. And examination of that question shows Medicare is a huge failure.

    David Goldhill, CEO of the Game Show Network, author of "How American Health Care Killed My Father" and life long Democrat, writes: "So even with the government paying almost all of their bills, today's seniors pay a higher share of their income for health care than seniors did before Medicare." http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....02229.html

    Thus, after paying for Medicare all their lives, seniors today spend a higher share of their income on medical care than they did before Medicare existed. This suggests that just abolishing Medicare would lower health care costs for seniors. It proves that whenever government meddles in a market, it distorts the market and increases prices.

    As PJ O'Rouke, the wise one, said "If you think things are expensive now, just wait until government makes it free."

    I appreciate the author's explanation of the costs and redistribution from one generation to another. But the value of these government programs is a better question to ask than whether redistribution among generations is affordable, wise or moral (the answers being it's not affordable, it's not wise, it's immoral, and it's popular with politicians and seniors).

  31. It bugs the shit out of me that Nick and Veronique can put so many words to "paper" and miss the obvious things I've seen for years...

    The SocSec system was flawed from the get-go. Life expectancy changes were NEVER factored into the system's math; baby booms and demographic bulges never were accounted for, and NOBODY could opt OUT of the system once they were in.

    And now the birds have come home to roost and damned near everyone is bitching about systems going bankrupt and how change is impossible and how we need to FIX IT NOW!


    This is a situation which has developed and evolved over decades, so to try to fix it in five or ten years (or "before it implodes) is sheer insanity.

    Reasonable "cures" should include phasing out the bad parts, but doing so over an AVERAGE WORKING CAREER, or about forty years!

    If new entrants to the workforce were given a choice of SocSec or personal, private "retirement accounts," (think IRA/Roth) and could contribute whatever they wanted PLUS avail themselves of contributions their employers would VOLUNTARILY offer them, they could opt out of the system and be NO burden on anyone but themselves by their retirement age, IF THEY even decided to EVER retire!

  32. Continued....

    People already IN THE SocSec system could continue to participate OR opt out, but a Safety Net proportional to the number of years they've been earning income could enable them to seek higher returns (and nest eggs) by putting PART of their earnings and benefits into a personal/private account, while retaining PARTIAL benefits of SocSec as it exists today.

    These approaches would reduce future SocSec obligations as more and more workers opted out. And if anyone wanted to work their whole lives with the SocSec as their ONLY nest egg or safety net, REAL actuarial numbers and serious math could show them what to really expect when they pulled the plug and "retired."

    The bullshit about "retirees have lower living expenses" is only believed by people who haven't retired.

    After retirement, virtually NONE of your daily, monthly or annual expenses drop AT ALL, unless you're spending a LOT of money on commuting or on suits or clothing for your job. Your mortgage might be paid off, but all insurances, car expenses, taxes, utility bills, etc., continue about the same as the day before you punched out of work.

  33. and finally...

    Expect to earn 5% on your savings? You'd better have twenty or forty times YOUR LAST GROSS YEARLY INCOME in the bank when you retire, because real living expenses will NOT drop 20-30% when you leave work, and if your savings include equities or bonds, add some cushion for the inevitable 20-30% dive the markets will take some time during your retirement years.

    But please don't trust any government agency or pension plan to take care of you forever. Too many variables change during a working lifetime.

  34. As David Friedman points out in "The Machinery of Freedom", the picture is even worse than that -- because the non-rich tend to start working at a younger age, retire at an older age, and die sooner (from poorer health care) than their richer counterparts. Thus the poor pay into Social Security and Medicare for more years (but don't get increased benefits for it -- SS benefit amounts are based on your best 40 quarters of earnings) and collect for fewer years.

    Thus even if we're comparing different people's wealth over their entire lives rather than at one age vs. another age, Social Security and Medicare are huge subsidies from the poor to the rich. But this is what we must always expect from any government subsidy scheme -- the rich have more and better lobbyists, who pay bigger bribes, than the poor.

  35. Non-marketable government securities are not assets.

  36. Great article. Thanks for the info, it's easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out an IRS form 1040,I found a blank form here http://goo.gl/k6zem0

  37. Shameful. Modern libertarianism.

    They should be replaced with social welfare programs that cover all citizens, regardless of age

    Yeah, we need higher taxes!
    Friedman had a better plan, decades ago.

    Learn how and why private charity worked better. And cheaper. As we all once knew.
    And TRY to design something that can actually be approved at the ballot box and thereby ... implemented. (gasp).

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