NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 12, 2007

On one of the great issues of our time, the social and economic costs of our retirement, we have adopted a policy of selfish silence, says columnist Robert J. Samuelson.

By comparison, other budget issues, including the notorious earmarks, are trivial, says Samuelson:

  • In 2005, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the main programs for the elderly) cost $1.034 trillion, twice the amount of defense spending and more than two-fifths of the total federal budget.
  • These programs are projected to equal about three-quarters of the budget by 2030, if it remains constant as a share of national income.

Preserving present retirement benefits automatically imposes huge costs on the young -- costs that are economically unsound and socially unjust:

  • The tax increases required by 2030 could hit 50 percent, if other spending is maintained as a share of national income, or
  • Much of the rest of government (from defense to national parks) would have to be shut down or crippled, or
  • Budget deficits would balloon to quadruple today's level.

To combat this, Social Security and Medicare benefits must be cut to keep down overall costs, says Samuelson.  Much of the adjustment should come from increasing eligibility ages (ultimately to 70) and curbing payments to wealthier retirees.  Americans live longer and are healthier.  They can work longer and save more for retirement

We have managed to take successful programs -- Social Security and Medicare -- and turn them into huge problems by self-centered inattention.  Baby boomers seem eager to "reinvent retirement" in all ways except those that might threaten their pocketbooks. Younger generations will not be so blind to this hypocrisy, says Samuelson.

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "Entitled Selfishness," Washington Post, January 10, 2007.

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