This post is part of our forum on Michael Kinsley's October cover story exploring the legacy of the Baby Boomers and what they owe the country. Follow the debate here.
The nasty tone of Lisa Chamberlain's comments is a bit hard to understand, since we seem to agree about most of the issues she raises, to the extent that I understand them. I struggle to find matters to challenge her on.
She suggests that entitlements are not a
problem--it's the "inability of the political leadership to manage them
responsibly." Actually--unlike the rest of what the government spends
money on (fighting wars, regulating the environment, dispensing
judgment)--there is very little "management" involved in Social Security
and Medicare. They are largely a matter of writing checks. And no degree
of "management" can produce or save the billions of dollars that we
will need to keep these programs solvent.
Yes, of course, Gen-Xers are going to get screwed by this even more than Boomers as the bills come in. That's in fact the point of the piece: Boomers ought to clean up the mess and relieve subsequent generations of that burden. Chamberlain says that this is "like most Boomer ideas, totally unrealistic." I agree that it's almost totally unrealistic, especially if the potential beneficiaries dismiss it out of hand. But does anyone have a better idea? Furthermore, I don't know on what basis anyone can say that "most Boomer ideas" fall into the same category. Name three.
Peter Orzsag's proposal to keep the Bush tax cuts for everybody for two years and then make everybody--not just the rich--go back to paying the higher pre-Bush rates is interesting and pretty gutsy, and (guess what?) almost totally unrealistic. In all probability, we will keep piling on the debt for a few more years until some crisis like a Chinese refusal to take any more IOUs forces us to stop. This will be just in time for Generation X to start paying it down. Good luck.
The debate continues here.