If we were creating Social Security and Medicare today, we'd set different terms. The first baby boomers hitting 60 include George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Diane Sawyer and Susan Sarandon. It's doubtful we'd provide benefits for any of these wealthy people. Indeed, we'd probably be less generous toward many affluent retirees, because we'd question why age alone (not need) should qualify people for government assistance. We'd also note vast changes since 1935 (Social Security's creation) and 1965 (Medicare's):Sadly, our political system is paralyzed by politicians' self interest and there seems to be no sign of a wave of political courage sweeping over Congress and allowing the reforms that are necessary to fix this looming crisis.
In 1935, about 6 percent of the population was 65 and over; now, it's nearly 13 percent and headed toward 20 percent in 2030.
Life expectancy at 65 was less than 13 years in 1935; now, it's 18 and rising.
In 1965, one of three payroll jobs was in manufacturing, mining and construction; now, that's one in six.
Health spending increased from 6 percent of national income in 1965 to 15 percent in 2003.
People live longer, are healthier (77 percent of those age 65 to 74 rate their health as "good" or "excellent'') and have less grueling jobs. They can work longer and receive benefits later. We'd set higher eligibility ages. It's too expensive for government to support them for 20 or 30 years. We'd concentrate aid on the neediest and the oldest, including people whose longevity exhausted their savings. We'd regard this as a moral and practical obligation of a decent society.
Well, if that's what present conditions suggest, why do we tolerate a system that automatically pays many people who are well off and in good health? The answer is that people who have been promised Social Security and Medicare benefits believe they have a moral claim to receive them, even if -- absent the promise -- their claim would be dubious. True, people need to plan their futures. But the moral logic also rationalizes self-interest and selfishness. The compromise is to unwind gradually those promises that no longer make sense and are ultimately unworkable.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Robert Samuelson bemoans the situation we're in with baby boomers about to turn 60 and entitlements taking a higher percentage of the federal budget than ever before and set to be 75% of the budget by 2030. Samuelson posits that, if we'd known then what we know now when Social Security and Medicare were created, we never would have set it up the way it was.
Posted by Betsy Newmark at 9:28 AM