Boomer Mojo; Our Time Has Come Again

The guest on this past week’s show (11/6/11: David Mills, author of 10000 Days: A Call to Arms for the Baby Boom Generation that asks of us “what do we plan to do with the last 10K productive days we have left after turning 50?”) believes we Boomers can use our past activist experience, combine it with the wisdom (hopefully) and decades of knowledge we’ve accumulated, and once again fix what’s wrong with our country.

This inspired me to ask this question of our followers on the show’s FB page: “Do you think we Boomers still have the collective to power to make great changes to society like we did in our youth?”  (feel free to go to the page and be heard)

Here’s a few of the responses:

  • “We have the collective power to make tremendous change. Need strong leadership and lots of people talking and sharing ideas.”
  • “We can and we are…”
  • “Sorry I believed we did in my youth but in the end I don’t feel we made a difference.”

Now, admittedly we’ve gotten the proverbial bad rap from the younger generations, feeling that we pursued what was in our own best interest at everyone else’s expense.  And indeed, as I mentioned in my last post, once we got into positions of power, we did all the things we derided our elders for doing (bespoiling the land for profit; taking kick-backs for influence; filling our corporate coffers at the expense of our workers’ well-being) – only bigger and with less discretion.

But as a generation, we also propelled more positive societal changes than any other generation in the history of our nation.  Hey, younger ones, enjoy the freedom to live together before you get married, and divorce without societal derision if you find you married the wrong person?  Thank us.  Ladies, glad you can no longer be overlooked for that big promotion simply because of your gender?  Thank your local Boomer.  And, for those of you who think clean air and water is a nifty idea, that river in Ohio would still be so toxic it’s on fire if not for our unwillingness to accept such polluting ways (for you kids, here’s the link for the back story on the burning river thing).

Well, my fellow Boomers, our time has come around again.  We have the numbers, the power, the finances, and the experience, to make this country proud.  We know how to use activism as an efficient tool for change.  Unfortunately, right now, the only members of our generation using it well are the members of the tea party (45% of which are white, male Boomers).  And I say “unfortunately” not because I disagree with their positions; it’s unfortunate because they are a minority of us – the rest of us are remaining dangerously disconnected from our immense ability to influence positive change.

Here is a brief list of powerful things we can do, individually and collectively, to regain our generational greatness as propellers of the social changes needed today, just as we so famously, and successfully did for those that were needed in the 1960’s/’70’s:

  • Lead by example
    Keep your promises; say what you mean/mean what you say; give more than you receive; be a mensch
  • Get involved in something that betters things
    Now that the kids are grown and if you’re not taking care of an elderly relative, give some of your time to something designed to make our world better, whether volunteering for a cause that tugs your heart, or pushing for needed changes in your community; at the very least, regularly communicate with your representatives so they know just what you want from them, and if you don’t get it, find someone who will do what you know needs doing
  • Agitate for changes to the way Congress handles our nation’s business
    A great place to start is by insisting on changes to the way Congress treats itself; if our little Princes & Princesses in DC are treated like the rest of us, we will have more true citizen representation – those who simply love the power will no longer want the job, and those who want the job will want to get the job done and go home.  Here’s a petition I’ve started circulating to insist on just such changes; download it, sign it, and pass it on: 
    Petition to Congress
  • Be a resource champion, not a resource hog
    Did you know that the improvements to the environment we fought for and won 40 years ago, are in the past few years being undone?  Air pollution is now worsening.  Go back to your roots of good earth stewardship; we can start with eliminating our own wasteful habits, from things a simple as reusing rather than immediately disposing, to driving a more fuel efficient car and downsizing everything.  And, become a proponent of both clean and renewable energy sources.

So, to that last respondent of the FB survey, I say; we absolutely made a difference – refusing to see our accomplishments, and build on them has been our mistake.

I believe it’s not a matter of being unable to make the changes we need, our children need, our grandchildren.

It’s a matter of being willing.

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What Would a Citizen Do?

Seal of the United States of AmericaThose who insist that the US government “live within its means” just like its citizens must in our own lives, are absolutely correct!

So, let’s play out that comparison, from which we can then determine the best strategy for our lawmakers to embrace.

Our government owes more than it brings in, so it must borrow money to meet its obligations.  Its been doing this for decades, with the blessing of both Republican and Democratic legislatures.  Many US citizens have done the same thing, a vast majority of them Boomers.  Now, if the government does not borrow more, it will default on what it already owes, its credit rating will be devalued, bills will go unpaid, and an already weak economy will become even weaker just when it needs a boost to avoid a second recession.

Here’s the same scenario but for a US family.

For the past decade, the Highlife family has been borrowing to make ends meet as they spent more than they brought in.  This included a second mortgage on their home.  But now the home’s value is less than half what it was three years ago when they took the second mortgage, and their first loan value is upside down.  If they don’t meet their fiscal obligations they’ll lose their home which will add yet another empty, unkempt property to their neighborhood which in turn will harm the values of their neighbors’ homes, their credit rating will tank making recovery from this bad situation that much more difficult and lengthy, and all who depend on them (children, elderly parents for example) will suffer as a result of their inability to provide the assistance they need to live decently (home care, books for school, etc.).   If you were the Highlifes, what would you do to dig yourself out from under this terrible mess (besides change your name…)?

What the vast majority of us have and would do is:

  • reduce our expenditures as much as possible without harming the basics we need to live (food, clothing, shelter, safety for us and our dependents, transportation, etc.)
  • bring in extra income to bridge the AP/AR gap (take another job, have the older kids work)
  • to avoid the disaster that defaulting on what we owe would bring to ourselves and all around us, we would use the credit and borrowing power we have available to us, but much more smartly, to get us through while the other strategies start to bear fruit, building our 5-10 year plan on the bedrock that, once a certain level of solvency is accomplished, we will no longer rely on borrowing to pay our bills
  • and….we do all the above with the clear understanding that digging out will require years to accomplish safely.

There you have it.  What the US government must do to handle this economic crisis just like a citizen would.

Boomers….Beware “Entitlement Reform”

social security administrationWhen we hear about the need to tackle entitlements if we are to have even the wisp of a hope of getting the federal budget under control, the two compelling questions become:

  1. Are Boomers “entitled” to Medicare and Social Security (is the term itself accurate), and;
  2. Is there actually a need to “reform” them?

First, to the question of entitlement.

I’ve paid into Social Security my entire working life (I started @ 16… that would be a ton of candles on my worker cake…), the promise being receipt of the benefits I’ve earned upon reaching a certain age.

The same goes for Medicare, which, like Social Security, is funded by payroll taxes; it gets additional funding by income taxes on SS benefits (which we will be paying) and interest earned on trust fund investments.

So…yes…we are entitled to them which is “beware #1”: Any argument to the contrary, often used to base debate on a complete overhaul of both systems, is incorrect.

Now, onto the need to “reform” them.

SS & Medicare were set up to pay for themselves, and in fact Social Security would be running a surplus were it not for the raiding of it over the decades to pay for other things.  Medicare is indeed rife with fraud (I’ve seen it with these two aging eyes as billing took place for my father for services that never occurred…we reported it…Medicare ignored it), but the good news is, unless the Medicare trust fund is being handled by Bernie Madoff, it ought to be doing well, so that’s a plus.

So, unfortunately, we do need reform them, which leads to “beware #2”:

Any reform will be useless without the most important change, not even whispered on Capital Hill –
Legislators’ ability to get their hands on those monies for uses other than the purposes of SS & Medicare.  Make both the Medicare & the SS Trust Funds off limits, period.

Once that’s in place, a few tweaks and we’re good to go.  For Social Security:

  • Change the formula for SS deductions so that income on earnings over $106K goes into the pot
  • Allow those making over $106K a year to claim only the percentage of SS equal to the percentage of their income they invested
  • Allow those making over a certain income upon retirement to not claim their benefits, if they wish to do so, putting that back into the pot
  • Raise the age at which we can claim our benefits, to match life expectancy (which was the original formula, we just haven’t been following it)

Onto Medicare.  This is one is simpler; rout out the fraud, and the system is solvent once more.  Yes that will take some investment in more investigators, etc., but the pay-off will be huge, the ROI significant.

Boomers are in charge, we have all the influence needed to make these reforms a reality.  We are entitled to these programs, so let’s be unafraid to fix them so they work well, now and through the coming decades.