Let’s End the Generational Wars
Right here, right now.
Let’s do it.
Let’s walk away from all the political chatter that would pit oldsters against youngsters.
Let’s abandon discussions that would preserve all of my and my kind’s advantages at the expense of our children and grandchildren.
You know what I’m talking about: the suggestion that Social Security and Medicare financial challenges be ‘solved’ by keeping my benefits intact while cutting the benefits of my children and grandchildren.
I am not saying that we can ignore the financial challenges we face.
I am saying that it is wrong to seek to solve those challenges by pitting generations against each other in their respective financial stake in the provision for old age.
So here’s an idea: if (and it is a big if, especially as I do not feel I am sufficiently qualified to even know where truth lies on these issues) Social Security and/or Medicare cuts in fact must be made, let’s begin not with our young. Let’s begin with ourselves.
We Baby Boomers have the (perhaps unfortunate) distinction of being the largest generation numerically. That’s why our generation is referred to as ‘Boomer’s - there’s just so darned many of us.
Thus did the many pay in for the relatively few of our own parents and grandparents.
But on top of all the other issues (economic downturn, increased longevity, increased costs of care), while there are more of us, there are less of our descendants, which means less money paid into these funds by the taxpayers.
So why don’t we Boomers think about ways we could take less from these funds to help defray the overall cost? Why don’t we think about how we might sacrifice for the benefit of those who will come after? Why don’t we ask AARP to fight as hard for our grandchildren as it fights for us?
I know I’m on shaky ground here as many literally do not have enough to meet their expenses as it is. And more and more, the kids and grandkids are coming back home to live, unable to find jobs themselves.
But let us never, ever forget why social financial safety nets were put in place ‘back in the day’. They were put in place precisely because we experienced a Great Depression and millions were in the position of having no means of surviving their own old age.
The safety net is worth protecting for the generations. And Wall Street is not the answer. I don’t know a lot about finances and economics, but I do know this: we cannot rely upon our worst selves to save our best selves. And unfortunately, Wall Street represent our worst selves. The idea that young taxpayers would have no Social Security but instead would be allowed to invest their own dollars in the stock market as they see fit actually puts right back in time to the place we were that led to the creation of Social Security in the first place: the Great Depression. When things go well with Wall Street, it feels pretty good. But things do not always go well with Wall Street. Ask any person preparing to retire in 2008-2010 whether they’d preferred to have a 401(k) or a traditional defined benefit pension plan. Nothing in this life is guaranteed, but a traditional pension plan is a much more sure thing than investing. Most of us simply do not have the interest or the expertise to invest wisely even on our own behalf. And if we don’t have to put the money aside for our old age, history tells us that we won’t. Finally, Wall Street continues to be a place for those with a very high tolerance for risk – with OPM (other people’s money). Gamblers Anonymous is filled with people who thought they had a ‘sure thing’. Wall Street is simply institutionalized gambling. We’ve learned and relearned that lesson and still we refuse to act upon the experience we’ve gained the hard way. 12 Step programs call that kind of behavior insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to be different). They aren’t wrong.
So here are a few very practical thoughts/suggestions for ‘we the people’:
1. For those of us with some means, stop – right now – any and all efforts to circumvent existing laws so that your savings will to go to your children when you die rather than to provide for your care right now. It is wrong. It is wrong to not only because it is illegal, but it is also immoral. It is immoral to actually have money on hand to provide for your own old age but to divert that money away from your care and require your fellow citizens to pay your freight so you can leave your kids a legacy. A lot of them (current taxpayers) have less than you do. So how about leaving your children the legacy of duty fulfilled, honor instilled, integrity preserved?
2. Same thing with life insurance: if you have life insurance worth more than it will cost to bury you and that life insurance has cash value, consider taking some of that cash value towards your own care.
3. Treat your kids well so that they will be willing to help care for you in your old age.
4. If you have the means, give some or all of the money back. That’s right. You heard me. If you have sufficient income to provide for yourself, when you file your income tax return, pay more than you owe. We are actually allowed to donate money to the government. So if you don’t need the Social Security, give it back. If you can’t get past the mental stumbling block that it’s ‘your money’, then give it back once you’ve reached the point that you’re drawing out more than you put in. Check out PPI for a proposal to codify the idea by giving retirees the ability to select a level of benefit to receive from Social Security.
5. Pay attention to your bills and Medicare benefit statements. Read them. If they show a service that you did not receive, call your doctor or the provider of the service to have it removed. Mostly, it’s probably just a mistake. But sometimes it isn’t. If it’s fraud, do not be a part of it. It is dishonest. If you know someone who is defrauding Medicare, report them. This fraud is stealing from our own children. Who steals from their own children? [Check out Medicare Fraud to learn how to report problems with billing.]
5. Make it clear that dealing with this problem for all the generations matters to you and your vote. There actually have been plans submitted to Congress that would make a difference. But Congress will not act. The reason is simple: Congress believes and rightly so that old folks (who vote way more than young folks do) will not stand for any of it. We have to change in order for Congress to change. We have to let them know that we are willing to do our part. Tell your Senator and Congressperson that you support Simpson-Bowles, which would both (a) increase the payroll tax for Social Security and (b) increase the retirement age. Perhaps the increase in retirement age might be a temporary measure (directed specifically at we Boomers). I don’t know if the math would justify this being an interim measure. But the fact remains that until we voters make it clear that we demand Congress act and recognize that it will require sacrifice on our part – a sacrifice we are willing to make – nothing will change. And it will be our fault. Not Congress’s. Not the President’s, whoever that person may be. Not ‘government’s’. Ours.
Maybe you’ve got some ideas too. Share them. Put them out there. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ when it comes to government and it’s time we stopped acting like ‘they’re’ doing something to ‘us’. It’s time we started behaving like grown-ups and believe and act as if economic crisis means sacrifice for everybody. It’s time we stopped allowing our politicians to pit us against our children. It’s time we cared about what happens to all of us and not just to me. It’s time we acted like we are the solution to our problems. In fact, it’s past time.