Thursday, May 26, 2005

Put aside the nostalgia and do the right thing

The debate over whether to reform Social Security is full of idiosyncrasies.


Here's a big one: No matter what fix we're talking about – partial privatization, raising the retirement age, means testing so millionaires forfeit benefits, tying benefits to inflation rather than wages, etc. – the most ferocious opposition comes from the demographic that won't be affected either way by any proposal being discussed at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue: Americans already 55 and over.

If you can imagine that, you're already two steps ahead of the Bush administration. White House officials seem baffled that their biggest fight has turned out to be with a group with whom the administration went out of the way to avoid picking a fight. The polls on this issue back that up. Most show the same trend: The older the polling sample, the less support you find for tinkering with Social Security. The younger the sample, the greater the support.

The more the administration tries to reassure seniors that they'll squeak by before any rule change takes effect, and so this debate doesn't concern them, the more concerned seniors get. Here's what the White House missed: This isn't just about self-interest. It's also about sentimentality. No other generation is as passionate – and therefore as protective – about Social Security as the World War II generation, those Americans now in their 70s and 80s. For that demographic, this debate is about preserving a program that served their generation well and which they hope will be around several decades from now to serve their grandchildren.

That's interesting. If they really wanted to protect their grandchildren, they'd do everything they could to ensure some generational fair play. Unless something is done, the current system will – 10 or 20 years from now – soak taxpayers with tax rates that experts say could easily top 50 percent when you combine income taxes with the payroll taxes necessary to fund Social Security and Medicare.
(ed.: Emphasis added) (From: Generations clash on Social Security by Ruben Navarrette, Jr.)

With all due respect to our seniors, not expecting them to step up to their intergenerational responsibilities is patronizing on reform supporters' part.

Hat Tip: Club for Growth


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