Thursday, February 3, 2005

Don't Blame the Old-Timers

The whole world is getting older and panic is rampant, particularly in America and Europe.

Well, calm down.

It’s a political problem and political problems have political solutions. Fifty years of buying votes by expanding the “promises franchise” in America and Europe have busted their budgets. Now we must revise the music the politicians before us wrote (and continue to write) because our voices won’t go that high. It’s not going to be pretty, taking all those prescription drugs away from our drugged oldsters.  But it’s gotta be done, Pops. Just say no. You were in favor of that for your kids in Nancy Reagan’s day . . . now it’s your turn.

The real problem isn’t even the real problem. Everyone thinks the real problem is the inability to pay, to continue coming up with more and more dough. That’s a problem, sure enough, but it’s not the real problem The real problem is having given a bunch of aging coots everything on their wish-list in order to get the AARP vote and it’s not going to be all that easy to undo.  Thirty-five million gaffers and growing.  Old coots vote in a bloc and bloc-voting is what’s kept firearm legislation from happening in a country that desperately (and by wide margins) wants gun control.

So, here we are, folks. 

All those angry old folks and a congress full of the middle-aged and soon-old, faced with telling us and each other some hard truths.
One hard truth is that Social Security isn’t in all that much trouble. The second hard truth is medical costs are sinking the ship. There is no way this country or any other can pony up the bread to pay for everyone’s Valium and hip-replacement surgery.  Sorry ‘bout that, but that’s why they’re called hard truths.

Depending upon whose numbers you want to believe, about 10% of all the humans who have ever been born, since the dawn of humanity, are alive today.
The dawn of humanity is longer ago than most of us can remember, so it’s a pretty sobering number. And most of those people are old . . . and cranky . . . and unrealistic. Before writing me a lot of hate-mail, understand that I am old as well and have been known to be cranky and unrealistic.

While it may make me cranky to have the dough for my Valium taken away, I’m not so unrealistic as to think it won’t happen.
Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are safety-net programs, were never meant to be anything else and have morphed into paying for middle-class assisted living facilities, then morphed again into otherwise-realistic-people thinking those costs ought to be included. Many of the otherwise-realistic turned out to be the kids of the gaffers in assisted living who didn’t want to pick up the cost of mom and dad.

So, it’s a long, sad tale of misrepresentation by those who wanted our votes, supported by those who wanted our money, agreed to by those who didn’t want mom and dad in the guest bedroom and worried-over (conveniently) in the times just after national elections. Case in point, it is now after a national election. We are now worrying big-time on the front (or editorial) pages of the NYTimes and Washington Post.

As with all such sad and misrepresented issues, the choices among politicians are pretty much three:

  • Suck it up and deal with it.

  • Talk a lot, making serious but meaningless statements, meanwhile being  photographed looking statesmanlike.   

  • Plan to retire from politics before the tsunami hits shore, depending on their own nest-egg. (Note: It is almost impossible to be in politics today without a substantial private nest-egg, thereby bringing clarity and a certain devil-may-care attitude toward the retirement and health issues of others)

Of those three, politicians are not much good at the first, which is looked upon (before elections) as campaign rhetoric and (after elections) as impossibly naïve. They are however, excellent at the second, particularly during the post-election lobbyist-feeding- frenzy, when it’s always appropriate to order the lobster-scampi combo prior to any serious discussion.

The third choice (commonly called the survivor’s bedrock position) is a post-WWII phenomenon, born of the Harvard Business School.  A pseudo-intellectual excuse for excess, this well-known business and political philosophy depends upon quarterly results to justify everything, including but not limited to; why nine out of ten CEO’s prefer the golden parachute, why schools no longer teach anything meaningful, why Social Security et al doesn’t work and why neither George Bush nor John McCain are likely to do anything about it.

Which is unfair to Bush, because he’s trying. Wrong, but trying.

So, that  pretty much leaves no one to come to grips with the problem but the gaffers themselves. They know, deep in their hearts, that these entitlement programs were designed for the other guy---the out-of-luck, the down-and-out, the unable-to-cope. They are, by and large, none of these things. Like most of us, they’ve taken what came their way, enjoyed it and grouched when anyone wanted to take it away . . . particularly anyone benefiting personally from that Harvard bullshit and that includes all politicians and Alan Greenspan. They might call it horse-hockey because they’re polite, but they mean bullshit.

It’s probably time to form another of those infamous presidential commissions, this one composed entirely of middle-class gaffers (and gafferettes) to bring some common sense to the argument. If we can’t all feed at this trough, someone needs to advise on who can best stand aside (or hobble or sit) and feed himself.

I’d trust my peers to cut me out of the loop, but I’d resent Alan Greenspan doing it.