Monday, February 2, 2009

Samuelsson: Obama in a box

Newsweek's Robert Samuelson writes on the challenges of programs for the aged, both at the federal and state level, and the difficulties politicians face in addressing them:

What looms is a huge transfer of income from younger workers to older retirees. Ideally, we would consciously decide how large the transfer should be. But in practice, the choice occurs semiautomatically. Social Security, Medicare and pension benefits are set by law. Unless the laws are changed, the payments go out, and the pressures on taxes and other government programs are inescapable.

Beyond reassuring speeches, Obama hasn't confronted the conflicts. He's been all things to all people. Rhetorically, he's for the children. But he's also for the elderly. In the campaign, he opposed proposals for reducing the future costs of Social Security and Medicare through higher eligibility ages and lower benefits. Obama is in a box of his own making; he cannot fulfill his promises to children without repudiating some promises to the elderly.

As a society, America is in the same box. The conflicts between generations may or may not incite open political warfare, but either by design or default, we will be making decisions about America's future. The old are well organized and highly protective of promised benefits, while the young are politically passionate and unfocused. For the young, the odds look lousy.

Click here for the whole article.


Jim Glass said...

Robert Samuelson, I wish it was Paul.

Andrew G. Biggs said...

Good catch. The Angry Bear types would go crazy over a mistake like that...