Category Archives: Social Security

Whose World Is It Anyway?

This morning I read an interesting article on OZY titled “Don’t Let Old People Vote!” I won’t go into great detail, but it did raise an interesting question for me: Whose world is it anyway?

One of my independent opponents, Rick Tyler, longs for a return to the way the U.S. was in the 1950s and 1960s, when white Christian Conservatives were in control. Tyler is extreme, certainly, but parts of his attitude are reflected in many older Americans. Opposition to gay marriage and equality, environmental protection, improved funding for education are all much greater among older Americans than younger, while older Americans are more likely to vote than younger Americans.

This is due at least in part due to the fact that voter registration isn’t automatic. The seventy-five-year-old who has lived in the same house for forty years hasn’t had to re-register, while the twenty-five-year-old recent college graduate likely had to re-register when moving from home to college, then when switching apartments, then when moving from college to the new job–possibly six or seven moves since turning eighteen. If the twenty-five-year-old is in Tennessee, that requires mailing in a new registration form for each move at least thirty days before an election, since there is no electronic voter registration. Thus, part of the reason for lower voter turnout among young Americans is systemic, rather than simply being voter apathy.

This is problematic, because older Americans are, effectively, voting to force younger Americans to live in the world they want, rather than in the world older Americans would like to return. Unfortunately, the world they want cannot return, because America is unlikely to return to a manufacturing economy, not due to moving jobs out of the country but due to increased automation–and that automation is only going to continue to allow workers to improve productivity, which will continue to decrease the number of workers needed. We need trade laws that protect intellectual property rights (although not to the extreme duration that the Trans-Pacific Partnership mandates), because these are areas where the U.S. still excels. Protecting the environment is also less important to older Americans, because they are unlikely to suffer the consequences. Their college wasn’t free, so why should it be for younger Americans–ignoring the fact that a college student in their day could pay for school, room, and board with a part-time job plus a full-time job in the summer? And, of course, many older Americans don’t think that racism and homophobia was really that bad–because LGBT people stayed closeted and minorities “knew their place.”

As anyone who has read more than one post on this blog knows, I’m not a normal politician. I don’t look forward to tomorrow, next week, or next year: I look ten, twenty, and fifty years into the future. I think we need to be planning an online voting infrastructure now, and it should be trivial for someone to change their address in the system. I think we need to continue to improve our environmental standards–but we need to make sure that while improving standards we don’t also increase the regulatory burden on American businesses. If we add a new reporting requirement, we need to remove an existing one. Civil rights protections need to cover any group subject to discrimination on any basis besides their ability to do a job–with appropriate accommodations, where needed–or to pay for the goods and services provided. I have said before that we need to move toward a single-payer health care system, both to allow U.S. manufacturers to compete on a level playing field internationally and to make part-time employment affordable for Americans and small businesses.

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(from Pinterest. Original artist unknown.)

I have argued before that we need to consider raising the age for Social Security, but given current population trends, this may not be the best route. The world population growth rate is currently about half that of the 1960s–1.13% compared to 2.2%–and falling. Depending on the rate of improvement in automation, we may have to tweak the workforce by manipulating the retirement age upward or downward. If we find that we have too many workers, it may be useful to drop the retirement age to free up those slots. We may even get to the point where a universal basic income becomes viable and desirable, in the case of automation greatly reducing the need for labor. It isn’t something that we can afford today, and much more research needs to be done, but it is something that we should consider as an option later.

I don’t fear the future. I don’t think you should either–and you shouldn’t vote for anyone who does. We need to manage the world so that we don’t irreparably damage it while we are getting there, but the world can be an incredible place. We just need politicians who won’t sabotage us on our way there.

The election is in four days. Do your research, then get out and vote. Thanks for reading!

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Filed under Education, Environment, Gay Marriage and Gender Issues, Health Care, Listening, Racism, Social Security, Technology

The Federal Budget

The U.S. Federal Budget for 2011 had a deficit of over one-and-a-quarter trillion dollars ($1,296,000,000,000). In simpler terms, that’s an overrun of over four thousand dollars for every man, woman, and child. This only tells part of the story, since this overage is only for 2011. The overall U.S. public debt is over fifteen trillion dollars ($15,356,000,000,000), or about $49,000 for every man, woman, and child. It would take the entire gross domestic product for over a year to pay for this.

In the words of astronaut Jack Swigert, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

Now, some naïvely think that an across-the-board cut in the budget will solve the problem. This is wrong on several levels. First, an across-the-board cut can’t happen, because many payments are fixed, such as interest payments (unless you want the government to default), Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, defense spending, and other “mandatory” programs. Discretionary spending only makes up $646 million dollars. In other words, cutting all discretionary spending would only cover half of the budget deficit. If you do put mandatory programs on the table, then you’re cutting someone’s Social Security and Medicare, and you’re cutting the defense budget–which means you’d better have a foreign policy to match. Finally, making these cuts quickly will cause the short-term loss of many government jobs at a time when the private sector can’t absorb them.

What Do We Need To Do To Fix This?

Simply put, we need to bite the bullet and make some difficult choices.

Health Care

We need to get Medicare and Medicaid under control. Medical spending price increases have outpaced inflation for many years. I would argue that a big reason for this is that there isn’t free market competition helping to keep prices down. In an earlier post, I suggested the following:

  1. Laws prohibiting insurers from operating across state lines repealed, leading to higher levels of competition.
  2. People required to purchase minimum health insurance policies in a manner similar to people being required to have car insurance, with government subsidies where necessary.
  3. All insurers being required to provide these minimal policies, with restrictions on how much profit they can make from these. I don’t find prohibiting profit appealing, because the profit motive often drives efficiency, but it does need to be reasonable.
  4. When employers no longer have to provide health care to their workers, they need to pass this savings to them in the form of increased pay. These companies should make more due to improved international competitiveness, not by passing this savings onto their shareholders.

My hope is that by introducing competition into the non-Medicare/Medicaid market, the prices the government has to pay for Medicare procedures will drop as well. If not, we will have to explore more drastic measures…

Social Security

People freak out whenever someone talks about raising the Social Security retirement age or reducing benefits. I’m sorry, but one or the other has to happen if we don’t want to see a tax increase of over $10,000 per household. I don’t like it, and I’m sure you don’t like it, but this isn’t a likable prospect–it’s a necessity.

When the original Social Security legislation was enacted in 1935, about 57% of those who lived to age 21 lived until age 65. Today, that number is closer to 80%. The average number of years collecting Social Security has also increased by about three years. The obvious, if unwelcome, solution, is to gradually increase the Social Security retirement age until the system is rebalanced. The Urban Institute says that the current retirement age would have to be 73 to have the same expected years in retirement as in 1940. I don’t think we can move the finish line that much for people currently approaching retirement, as many have planned for this income at retirement, but for those further away, we need to readjust. It’s either that or raise taxes.

Defense spending

Simply put, as a nation we need to decide whether we want the U.S. to continue to be the world’s de facto policeman, or if we are willing to share this responsibility with other countries. Right now, the U.S. spends more on its military than the next seventeen countries combined. Personally, I think we should share more of this responsibility. Combined Task Force 151 has successfully reduced piracy off the coast of Somalia, and similar efforts could and should be used to patrol the high seas around the world to keep trade routes open and the world economy chugging along. The multinational effort in Libya worked to remove Gadhafi from power. The question really boils down to, “Are we willing to share the power that comes from being the world’s main military power?”

In my opinion, we don’t really have a choice.

 

Of course, there is some discretionary spending that can and should be cut. I would move much of the Department of Education’s duties back to the states and I’d take a good, long look at agricultural subsidies, just to name two examples.

One thing I wouldn’t do is make a hare-brained proposal to cut the pensions of future Congressmen when simultaneously explaining that I wouldn’t cut the pension of a family member who happened to serve in Congress before me. I promise that I will never propose or vote for decreases in benefits for your family unless those cuts, or related cuts, also affect mine.

 

Reminder: I will be on Andraé McGary’s Live and Local on WGOW-FM 102.3 tomorrow at 1:00. You can listen to the stream here.

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Filed under Federal Budget, Health Care, Social Security