Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Social Insecurity

Writing in Slate today, the Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman launches a dual salvo at two of my favorite targets -- senior citizens and baby boomers.

Using the recently passed and signed Medicare prescription-benefit bill as a jumping-off point, Chapman observes that America's seniors, though healthier and wealthier than they've ever been, continue to demand -- successfully -- that they be the most pandered-to special-interest group in the nation:

America's elderly have never had it so good. They enjoy better health than any previous generation of old people, high incomes and ample assets, access to a host of medical treatments that not only keep them alive but let them enjoy their extra years, and a riotous multitude of ways to spoil their grandchildren. Still they are not content. From gratefully accepting a basic level of assistance back in the early decades of Social Security, America's elderly have come to expect everything their durable little hearts desire.

They often get their way, as they did recently when years of complaints finally induced Congress and the president to agree to bear much of the cost of their prescription drugs. From the tenor of the debate, you would think these medications were a terrible burden inflicted by an uncaring fate. In fact, past generations of old people didn't have to make room in their budgets for pharmaceuticals because there weren't many to buy. If you suffered from high cholesterol, chronic heartburn, or depression, you were left to primitive remedies, or none. Today, there are pills and potions for just about any complaint -- except the chronic complaint that many of them are pricey. It's not enough to be blessed with medical miracles. Modern seniors also want them cheap, if not free.

Chapman then takes aim at everyone's other favorite self-involved demographic:

It's surely no coincidence that the new drug benefit is being enacted just as the first baby boomers are nearing retirement age. Nor can it be forgotten that the organization formerly known as the American Association of Retired People -- it's now just AARP -- has lately broadened its membership to include all the boomers it can get its wrinkled hands on. AARP, to the surprise of many, endorsed the plan. And what a surprise it is that the prescription drug program, which will cost some $400 billion over the next 10 years, could balloon to $2 trillion in the 10 years following that -- when guess-who will be collecting. You would expect taxpayers in their peak earning years to recoil in horror from a program that will vastly increase Washington's fiscal obligations for decades to come. In fact, they -- make that we -- can see that the time to lock in a prosperous old age is now, before twentysomethings know what's hit them.

Boomers have gotten our way every since we arrived in this world, and the onset of gray hair, bifocals, and arthritis is not going to moderate our unswerving self-indulgence. We are the same people, after all, who forced the lowering of the drinking age when we were young, so we could drink, and forced it back up when we got older, so our kids couldn't. On top of that, we're used to the best of everything, and plenty of it. We weren't dubbed the Me Generation because we neglect our own needs, Junior. If politicians think the current geezers are greedy, they ain't seen nothin' yet.

Chapman hopes that the boomers' "insatiable desire to furnish our kids with every advantage known to humanity" will enable them to overcome their staggering narcissism, come to their senses, and stop mortgaging every succeeding generation's future. I'm not so sanguine. A baby boomer is, after all, an elderly person waiting to happen, and as each boomer slides seamlessly from middle to old age, the potential for even further self-centeredness and sense of entitlement is hopelessly explosive.

It's just a shame that my generation -- yes, good old Generation X -- can do nothing to stop America's politicians from voting for every senior-friendly piece of legislation regardless of cost. What's that you say?

We could vote more regularly and force them to heed our counsel for a change?

Dude, I'm too busy playing Xbox to do that.


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