[W]e’ve heard almost nothing of the main problem that makes the budget so intractable.Agreed--again and again and again and again . . .
It’s the elderly, stupid.
By now, it’s obvious that we need to rewrite the social contract that, over the past half-century, has transformed the federal government’s main task into transferring income from workers to retirees. In 1960, national defense was the government’s main job; it constituted 52 percent of federal outlays. In 2011 -- even with two wars -- it is 20 percent and falling. Meanwhile, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other retiree programs constitute roughly half of non-interest federal spending.
These transfers have become so huge that, unless checked, they will sabotage America’s future. The facts are known: By 2035, the 65-and-over population will nearly double, and health costs remain uncontrolled; the combination automatically expands federal spending (as a share of the economy) by about one-third from 2005 levels. This tidal wave of spending means one or all of the following: (a) much higher taxes; (b) the gutting of other government services, from the Weather Service to medical research; (c) a partial and dangerous disarmament; (d) large and unstable deficits.
Older Americans do not intend to ruin America, but as a group, that’s what they’re about. On average, the federal government supports each American 65 and over by about $26,000 a year (about $14,000 through Social Security, $12,000 through Medicare). At 65, the average American will live almost 20 more years. Should these sizable annual subsidies begin later and be less for some? It’s hard to discuss the budget realistically if you ignore most of what the budget does.
Monday, August 01, 2011
Robert Samuelson in Friday's Washington Post: