That’s the plea from Washington Post economics columnist, and card-carrying baby boomer, Robert Samuelson:
I received my Medicare card the other day, recognizing my 65th birthday and making me part of one of America’s biggest problems. By this, I mean the burden that the massive baby-boom generation will impose on its children and the nation’s future. There has been much brave talk recently, from Republicans and Democrats alike, about reducing budget deficits and controlling government spending. The trouble is that hardly anyone admits that accomplishing these goals must include making significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits for baby boomers.
Yet, neither political party seems interested in reducing benefits for baby boomers. Doing so, it’s argued, would be “unfair” to people who had planned retirements based on existing programs. Well, yes, it would be unfair. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a worse time for cuts. Unemployment is horrendous; eroding home values and retirement accounts have depleted the elderly’s wealth. Only 19 percent of present retirees are “very confident” of having enough money to live “comfortably,” down from 41 percent in 2007, reports the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
But not making cuts would also be unfair to younger generations and the nation’s future. We have a fairness dilemma: Having avoided these problems for decades, we must now be unfair to someone. To admit this is to demolish the moral case for leaving baby boomers alone. Baby boomers – I’m on the leading edge – and their promised benefits are the problem. If they’re off-limits, the problem is being evaded. Together, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid represent two-fifths of federal spending, double defense’s share.
Samuelson goes on to recommend some familiar solutions: Raise the retirement age, limit or eliminate benefits for wealthy retirees, raise Medicare premiums. But he is one of the first boomers I’ve seen who is arguing for his own generation to be the one that draws the short straw in bearing the brunt of the nation’s fiscal burden.
That said, I don’t expect to see our political leaders make such a decision; nor, really, does Samuelson, and he also rattles off the usual lineup of political liabilities for anyone who would take his advice. But the alternative scenario he sketches should frighten anyone young enough to face the higher taxes, permanent budget deficits and lower standards of living he envisions should the problem remain unresolved.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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