745 Boylston Street --
PETER G. Peterson, a New York investment banker and the founding president of the Concord Coalition, a citizens' group co-chaired by the former senators Warren Rudman and Paul Tsongas, which one might say is dedicated to making America eat its collective spinach, may be the author of our cover article, but Peterson's father, George, who died in 1986, is its inspiration. George and his wife, Venetia, gave their son life lessons that inform his public commitments. These lessons echo in every line of his two books and several major articles; the best-known among the latter, "The Morning After," which appeared in the October, 1987, issue of The Atlantic Monthly, unmasked the fiscal disaster of supply-side economics and won a National Magazine Award.
George Petropoulos a d Venetia Papapavlou were Greek immigrants who came to this country as teenagers; George joined his older brother Nick as a dishwasher in the caboose kitchens of the Union Pacific Railroad. In time he put by enough money to start "the inevitable Greek restaurant"--as Peterson writes in his 1993 book Facing Up --in Kearny, Nebraska, a stop on the Union Pacific. Its doors were open twenty-four hours a day 365 days a year.
The Petersons (Nick took the name after his foreman repeatedly mangled "Petropoulos,"and George adopted it) lived by an endowment ethic: A better future requires investment, which requires saving, which requires sacrifices in present consumption. That is Pete Peterson's prescription for America today.
"Right now," he writes, "a huge crop of Baby Boom workers are swelling our tax receipts while a relatively smalh generation retires. But soon those demographic forces will be thrown into reverse." The long gray wave of the Baby Boom generation's retirement will crowd out investment, both private and public, physical and human--unless we act now to balance the budget, require families to save more for their future, and enact far-reaching reforms in senior entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. Peterson served on the President's Commission on Entitlement Reform in 1994. His views have weight. We asked him, Is entitlement reform likely to be debated in the presidential campaign? On this issue, Peterson says, the candidates are either being "constructively ambiguous" or are taking "a deafening oath of silence."
Copyright ©1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; May 1996; 745 Boylston; Volume 277, No. 5; page 6.