Posts tagged with: Baby Boomers

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Last week presidential candidate John McCain distanced himself from economic adviser Phil Gramm, after Gramm’s comments that America had become a “nation of whiners” and that the current concerns over a lagging economy amounted to a “mental recession” rather than any real phenomena.

The press and political reaction was swift and quizzical. What could Phil Gramm possibly mean? Why would an adviser to a presidential candidate publicly broadside the American electorate? As one editorial page wondered, “we can’t fathom the target of his ‘nation of whiners’ zinger.”

Sen. Obama himself seemed a bit (mockingly) incredulous. “Then he deemed the United States, and I quote, ‘A nation of whiners.’ Whoa,” Mr. Obama said. “A nation of whiners?” After his remarks were published, Gramm would later clarify that he was talking about “American leaders who whine instead of lead.”

But Obama’s reading of Gramm’s original remarks seem to be the most natural. “It isn’t whining to ask government to step in and give families some relief,” said Obama.

Well, maybe it is whining, but that’s precisely the sort of family-friendly rhetoric that makes Gramm’s remarks seem unduly harsh by comparison. But does it matter if there is truth to the substance of Gramm’s assertions? A day after Gramm’s statements appeared in the Washington Times, the Washington Post published an article highlighting the findings of a study that characterized the baby boomers as a generation of…”whiners.”

The study by the Pew Research Center found that

More than older or younger generations, boomers — born from 1946 to 1964 — worry that their income won’t keep up with rising costs of living. They say it’s harder to get ahead today than it was 10 years ago. They are more likely to say that their standard of living is lower than their folks’ but that things don’t look too good for their kids either (67 percent of younger generations, meanwhile, feel they have it better than their parents).

This despite the fact that boomers, dubbed here the “gloomiest” generation, have had it objectively better for a longer period of time than any other generation before or since. Anecdotally I had a “boomer” relative tell me the other day that the movie Cinderella Man resonated with her because it happened during a time of economic duress, the Great Depression, that so closely resembles the problems of today. Talk about a lack of correspondence between perception and historical reality!

The real problem with Gramm’s remarks was that they displayed a lack of connection to the perceptions of many Americans, even if his comments corresponded better with reality than many popular perceptions. Part of what makes a successful politician is the ability to understand and sympathize with his or her constituency, beyond the clarity of vision simply to see what the objective truth is. Gramm’s comments were more than just “bootstraps” rhetoric. Perhaps they were meant to be prophetic, in a way that gives people a kick in the rear and forces them to readjust their frame of reference.

And, again, the substance of the remarks didn’t differ much from what the “straight talking” McCain campaign has been saying all along. Last April McCain marched into Ohio, a part of the country hardest hit by globalization of industry, and said, “a person learns along the way that if you hold on — if you don’t quit no matter what the odds — sometimes life will surprise you. Sometimes you get a second chance, and opportunity turns back your way. And when it does, we are stronger and readier because of all that we had to overcome.” This sort of approach takes seriously the realities of both global trade and the plight of displaced workers.

So McCain’s dismissal of Gramm should be understood as having as more to do with rejecting the tone and style of Gramm’s message than the substance. McCain may have learned something from the resonance of Mike Huckabee’s message to blue collar evangelicals that trade needs to be “free and fair.” But for many economic conservatives, reactions to that message were as negative as reactions were to Gramm’s message. Free and fair? Free is fair, right? Maybe it is, but it doesn’t always seem to be so. And simply repeating “free is fair” isn’t going to work rhetorically.

The ideological inability of many economic conservatives to frame their message in a way that resonates with mainstream Americans is what is reflected in Phil Gramm’s comments and the corresponding rejection and derision of Mike Huckabee by many in the GOP (the positive reception of Gramm’s remarks among many economic conservatives underscores this). In politics, communicating the truth effectively is just as important as perceiving it. McCain might be on a steeper learning curve on that score than many of his fellow Republicans.

Aaah, Social Security and Medicare: A soothing balm for the young at heart, but a source of boiling rage for the ACTUAL young.

Every now and again, I stumble across an article that just gets me going. Today was one such day, and this was one such article. Robert Samuelson takes aim at the baby boomers and their entitlement mentality in the Washington Post:

As someone born in late 1945, I say this to the 76 million or so subsequent baby boomers and particularly to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, our generation’s leading politicians: Shame on us. We are trying to rob our children and grandchildren, putting the country’s future at risk in the process. On one of the great issues of our time, the social and economic costs of our retirement, we have adopted a policy of selfish silence…

…It’s no secret that the 65-and-over population will double by 2030 (to almost 72 million, or 20 percent of the total population), but hardly anyone wants to face the implications:

  • By comparison, other budget issues, including the notorious earmarks, are trivial. In 2005, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the main programs for the elderly) cost $1.034 trillion, twice the amount of defense spending and more than two-fifths of the total federal budget. These programs are projected to equal about three-quarters of the budget by 2030, if it remains constant as a share of national income.

  • Preserving present retirement benefits automatically imposes huge costs on the young — costs that are economically unsound and socially unjust. The tax increases required by 2030 could hit 50 percent, if other spending is maintained as a share of national income. Or much of the rest of government (from defense to national parks) would have to be shut down or crippled. Or budget deficits would balloon to quadruple today’s level…

No need to fear, however, because our brave and principled political leaders are stepping up to the plate… and refusing to do anything:

Any reform plan would have to make its way through the Senate Finance Committee, which will be chaired in the new Congress by Montana Democrat Max Baucus. He’s a guy the White House thought at one point might be a vote in favor of Bush’s plan to carve out personal savings accounts as a way to make Social Security a better deal for younger workers.

But I have to say that a brief chat I had late yesterday afternoon with Baucus didn’t imbue me with much confidence. I asked him flat out if there would be major Social Security reform in this new Congress. Baucus slowly and rather unenthusiastically replied, “Oh, I don’t know. The trust fund doesn’t reach zero until 2042.”

What about Medicare reform?

The federal government should join the state of Massachusetts in enacting universal health coverage, said Sen. Edward Kennedy, the new chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over numerous health issues.

Kennedy’s home state is the first to require everyone to have health insurance, just as drivers must have automobile coverage.

Kennedy has his own version of what universal health coverage would look like. He wants to extend Medicare to all.

Well, that should help to keep the program solvent and affordable for many years to come! Although, to be fair, perhaps Senator Kennedy isn’t ignoring reality, and is actually proposing this expansion of Medicare in order to speed the imminent demise of the program and force a crisis which he can then solve…

Naaah.

Yoda: Entitlements = Suffering

So we’re left with a looming crisis that everyone knows is coming but no one with the ability to do anything about it will acknowledge it for fear of the political consequences. And in the meantime, I get to look at my paycheck and see hundreds of dollars fall away every month into programs that will be long gone by the time I would get to the age of eligibility. I try not to think what my 401k or IRA would look like right now if I had just been able to funnel that money in that direction; that way lies anger, and you know what Yoda said about anger: It eventually leads to suffering.

These boomers can rest easy tonight with clear consciences because they gave to FREE RIDE. Why not join them today?

But why should I wallow in anger and self-pity? This is America, the Land of Opportunity – and have I got an opportunity for all of you baby boomers out there! Since you’re going to be helping yourselves to a generous portion of my money over the coming years (barring some sort of political miracle), I’d like to give you the opportunity to say thanks in a tangible way: by contributing to the Fund for Redistribution and Entitlement Equality/Retirement Income Doubling Enterprise (or FREE RIDE for short), a new initiative that I’ve set up to ensure that the boomers have the same opportunity to contribute to retirement security that my generation has. Well, not quite the same – it’s voluntary, whereas my income is confiscated – but still, I have to believe that you’re just as concerned with my retirement security as you are with yours, right?

Just make your check out to me and send them care of the Acton Institute (the address is here), and you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that you’ve helped to ensure the retirement security of at least one future senior.