President Obama may still be reluctant to say that he intends to substantially enlarge the government and raise taxes on more than just the top two percent, but the New York Times is growing bolder about just what it is that Democrats want. Today’s Times features an Op-Ed by Kenneth S. Baer and Jeffrey B. Liebman, two former Obama OMB officials, on the fiscal impact of the retiring baby-boom generation.
Up to now, most public talk about the economic implications of retirements in the massive baby-boom cohort has come from Republicans. Conservatives have called the impact of the boomers on entitlements unsustainable. We’ve also backed creative policy solutions like the Ryan plan to cope with the shift. More than that, conservatives have bemoaned the public’s lack of awareness of the looming fiscal disaster. Unfortunately, denial of demographic reality on the part of the Democrats and their media sympathizers had a lot to do with the results of the last election.
With Obama safely re-elected, however, we’re now beginning to hear the Democratic take on the coming demographic challenge. Today’s Baer-Liebman Op-Ed highlights the “baby boom bump,” but takes the polar opposite of a conservative approach to it. For Baer and Liebman, massive baby-boom retirements mean that it’s time to face the facts and accept a far larger government than we’ve ever seen before. They also call for “higher revenues,” along with “slower growth in our social insurance programs.”
So the Times now sets the stage for the real economic debate of the future. Soon both Democrats and Republicans will highlight the massive baby-boom retirements to make their respective points. Voters will no longer be clueless about the fast-closing fiscal-demographic disaster, but will soon be asked to choose between two radically different ways of dealing with it. Either reform entitlements in conformity with free-market principles and avoid massive tax increases (thereby reducing benefits), or vastly expand the welfare state and tax the middle-class to pay for it, using government rationing for such cost-control as is possible.
Conservatives have known this was the choice all along. With Obama now safely re-elected, however, the Democrats are owning up to it as well.
Have a look at the picture above the Baer-Liebman Op-Ed, and you’ll see that the illustrator for the Times hasn’t quite gotten with the program. He’s correctly depicted the implications of the Op-Ed’s argument, but in a way that bucks up the conservative case.