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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Social Security Generational Warfare?

The Seattle Times: Opinion: Bad faith on Social Security:

Anyone who thinks this debate is over is indulging in wishful thinking. I understand why Democrats want this issue to go away. The debate puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between the interests of two constituencies that they've spent decades trying to court: senior citizens and young people. So far, the elderly have been an easy choice. Most Democrats in Congress don't have the nerve to confront the powerful senior citizens lobby - most notably the AARP with its nearly 40 million members - to force the sort of changes that a simple reading of demographic realities says must take place. So they'd rather sell out young people who, because they don't vote in the same percentages as the elderly, are on their way to getting the short end of the stick. Young people need to wake up and start 'feeling' the Social Security debate before it's too late. They need to realize that Democrats have made their choice, and that it amounts to an assault on the long-term financial well-being of their generation. Then they need to go to the polls, maybe even run for office themselves, and fight to prevent tax rates from soaring over the next few decades. Whenever I talk this way, skittish baby boomers write in and accuse me of promoting generational warfare. But the war has already started, and what I'm talking about is nothing more than generational self-defense.
I would hope that a generational war is not needed here. While certainly my own self-interest would be helped out by private accounts (I have never counted on getting a dime from Social Security), it seems to me that many, perhaps most, elderly people care as much about their grandkids as they do about themselves. Similarly, I do think we need to honor our commitments and take care of those who have planned for retirement with Social Security in mind. The truth is, we simply cannot in the current system give out the level of benefits we are giving out indefinately. Therefore, we must either increase taxes, lower benefits, or find a way to have the taxes we collect generate their own stream of revenue that does better than treasury bonds. Privatization is a way to achieve the latter method. I expect that some of each of the other two methods will be required as well. Nonetheless, it does make sense for the young to be actively involved in this debate. The younger you are, the more effect any plan that is enacted today will have upon you.


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