The Corner

Robert Samuelson Commits Rationality in Public




Tired of holiday fantasy?  Sick of Frosty the Snowman?  Had it with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?  Ready to question the existence of Santa (perhaps because the presents suggest naughty and you believed you were nice)?  Step right up, we give you Robert Samuelson in today’s Washington Post:

There has been much brave talk recently, from Republicans and Democrats alike, about reducing budget deficits and controlling government spending. The trouble is that hardly anyone admits that accomplishing these goals must include making significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits for baby boomers.

On Medicare and Social Security, be unfair to the boomers

If we don’t, we will be condemned to some combination of inferior policies.

Yes, he said it.  When you have a spending problem, fix it.  When the spending problem comes from entitlements, fix entitlements.  When the entitlements are driven by the baby-boom generation, admit it.  As a matter of mental health, it’s probably good Congress and the president were not in town for this outburst of plainspoken logic as the basic rationality is so radical that it would likely leave them dazed and confused.  And when they return, don’t expect immediate embrace of the facts.

As Samuelson acknowledges “Confession: I’ve written columns like this for years. Little has changed.”   It will be a tough battle.  After all the baby-boom generation is notable not only for being a large demographic event.  It is the largest ego event in history.  The self-absorbed boomers have been catered to their entire existence.  Think just about music.  Without the boomers, we’d never have to hear Grace Slick screeching “Somebody to Love” again. Without the boomers, would Hewlett-Packard really use Melanie’s “Brand New Key” to sell web-accessible printers?  Without boomers, who cares that the Beatles are on iTunes?

Time for my confession: I was born in 1958 and am technically the trailing edge of the baby boom and I owned all the Melanie albums. So I am committing heresy by admitting the logic of Samuelson’s position.  But seriously, if we choose to grandfather the baby-boomers, then we have grandfathered the problem.  For that reason alone I have argued for years that the bumper sticker for entitlement reform should be “Get Doug Holtz-Eakin.”

And that would be fair.  After all, the greatest injustice is that which is being perpetrated on the next generations.  Catering one more time to the baby boomers means we risk leaving to them an economy in tatters and a diminished standard of living, a weakened America no longer able to project its values around the globe, an indebted Nation that is no longer free to ignore the demands of its foreign bankers, and the obligation to pay off our largesse.  All without the ability to cast a single vote against this folly.  Nothing could be less fair.

Happy Holidays. Enjoy the annual festivities.  But save your Washington Post and pray that on January 2 rationality enters the debate over what is fair when fixing the budget.  

– Douglas Holtz-Eakin is president of the American Action Forum.


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