I’d like to answer the question posed by the Republican candidate for President: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” in a way I keep hoping the Democratic candidate for President would respond but hasn’t; for a “real people/real lives” perspective:
Ah, the “Tea Party” – known somewhat facetiously but mostly factually, as a group dominated by White male Boomers with too much time on their hands and not enough accurate information about either the US Constitution or the Founding Fathers, who want a whole lot less government for everything other than those items they deem needing a whole lot more government intervention (such as women’s choice, definition of marriage, etc.); and of course, who want no changes to their SS & Medicare no matter how much updating these two worthy programs need in order to remain solvent.
But…. There is one very important reason to have great respect for our Boomer brethren even if we don’t agree with their positions.
They are fully involved, organizing for the things in which they believe – and it’s working. No doubt most of them didn’t do such things as youth – that was a hippie thing. But they’re doing it now. And those who were activists in our youth, make up the vast majority who are doing so little today.
So, hip hooray for the Tea Party for being actively involved – pushing for those things they believe to be in the country’s (well, mostly their) best interest.
To the rest of us who hold a different view of what’s good for our nation, I say… don’t knock ’em…. emulate them!
There’s an email forwarding around the nation with the heading: “This Senior Citizen Nailed It!!!!” and a final proud recommendation that you “pass it on” – it being so good and all.
It’s in response to remarks purportedly made by WY Senator Alan Simpson while he was on President Obama’s Deficit Reduction Committee, calling “senior citizens the Greediest Generation” and comparing Social Security to a milk cow with 310 million teats. Here’s an excerpt of that email:
“I, and millions of other Americans, have been paying into Medicare from Day One, and now you morons propose to change the rules of the game. Why? Because you idiots mismanaged other parts of the economy to such an extent that you need to steal money from Medicare to pay the bills.
I, and millions of other Americans, have been paying income taxes our entire lives, and now you propose to increase our taxes yet again. Why? Because you incompetent bastards spent our money so profligately that you just kept on spending even after you ran out of money….
To add insult to injury, you label us “greedy” for calling “bullshit” on your incompetence. It is you, Captain Bullshit, and your political co-conspirators called Congress who are the “greedy” ones. It is you and your fellow nutcases who have bankrupted America and stolen the American dream…And you can take that to the bank, you miserable son of a bitch.”
To start, here’s what Senator Simpson actually said after noting that, while every interest group that testified before his committee agreed that the mounting federal debt is a national tragedy, they would then insist that government funding for their interest area shouldn’t be touched:
“We had the greatest generation (meaning his, he’s 79) – I think this is the “greediest generation” (meaning we Boomers). “I really believe there are more patriots in America than selfish… people.” So, in reality:
- he wasn’t talking about “senior citizens” as no Boomer would ever consider him/herself one,
- he never mentioned cows or their teats,
- he actually voiced his belief that these “greedy” folks coming before him did not represent the vast majority of Americans, and
- his primary recommendation to save SS/Medicare, against which this supposed writer was railing, was to raise the age of eligibility a few years to stay true to the original formula for benefits disbursement, one based on life expectancy (which has lengthened by almost 15 years since SS was first passed in 1935)….
But what’s even sorrier than yet another email making the rounds that is raging against something that didn’t happen (in this case, wasn’t said), is the raging itself as an acceptable if not laudable trait. The use of rhetoric not even becoming of a 17 year old is elevated, embraced, celebrated…forwarded (how many parents do you know who would allow their child to talk this way?…well, let’s say how many whose kids aren’t now in foster care…?).
Had Senator Simpson actually said those things, this writer’s point would have been much more powerfully made by allowing the facts to speak for themselves, presented in a more respectful fashion (I have paid my dues and am not greedy to want what I’ve earned; here’s some examples of Congress appearing “greedy” that belie your point).
Nelson Mandela biographer John Carlin, found that this man, one of the greatest world leaders our generation has known in part by being able to impress even his arch enemies, became great because “he learned that succumbing to vengeful passions brought fleeting joys at the cost of lasting benefits” and that “…respect (is a weapon) of political persuasion as powerful as any gun.”
We need not first be Mandela’s – imprisoned and tortured yet able to bring an end to his country’s egregious practice of apartheid through his own forgiveness and generosity; or Ghandi’s – able to bring an end to British imperial occupation of his country through peaceful and passive (fasting/hunger strike) protest – in order to voice our discontent.
But we can at least refuse to admire words…and emails…like this one.
Recently, one column directly below the other in the Op Ed section of my newspaper, both about fixing Medicare, attempted to persuade us of each writer’s position on the issue…one from Right leaning David Brooks, the other from Ezra Klein who appears to be tilting more left-ish. They did this by appealing to our Spock-selves, using the logic of statistics.
Mr. Brooks cited the following in his attempt to convince us that a system with greater government control by a team of experts is akin to a walk in Wonderland: “(existing competitive model)…costs are 41% below expectations”; Mr. Klein tried to convince us that countries with greater government control have far better, and more cost-effective systems than do we, by citing the following statistic: “The Medicare Advantage (competitive model) program…ended up costing about 120% of what Medicare costs.”
Hmmmm… the competitive model costs us less, except when it’s costing us more.
This is the problem with statistics. The numbers may be real, the science behind them solid, but you can easily find what you want to support your position, using numbers to tell a very different story about the same specific issue.
It is understandable, then, that folks with some willingness (and ability) to think critically, will rely only marginally on easily manipulated (or carefully chosen) numbers to make important decisions.
Instead, here is my recommended recipe for deciding the best course of action: start with your fact-based numbers – fine (I am a particular fan of cost/benefit analyses) – but then add a big dollop of common sense, a generous sprinkle of compassion, add plenty of historic track record, throw in a dash of learning from others (mistakes and successes), and season with what is best for the common good (my fellow Boomers, “keep your hands off my Medicare” is a fine example of thinking “me” vs. common good).
Crucial decisions on how to fix seriously dysfunctional systems without doing more harm in the process, like reducing our national debt while maintaining a decent quality of life for all Americans, depend on this balanced approach.
When 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:
- Are Boomers “entitled” to Medicare and Social Security (is the term itself accurate), and;
- 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.