Clayton Mitchell -- Baby Boomers: We're not going to party like it's 1999 anymore

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By Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr.

Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare will comprise more than 50 percent of our nation’s annual disbursements within this decade. During our lifetimes, we will experience the day of reckoning where all discretionary spending, the entire military budget and all earmarks could be eliminated, and the Federal Budget will remain in deficit solely because of mandated spending in these three social programs. As a matter of survival, and if we wish to continue as a free and independent nation, we must vocalize that which we instinctively know –- that we must break some of the longstanding promises of the New Deal and the Great Society and widen the scope of taxation.

For decades, our Congresspersons and our Presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have frolicked in the financial masquerade of disguising the extent of our federal budget deficits by confiscating Social Security surpluses for general budgetary expenditures. They did this with our tacit consent because we have increasingly demanded more government services. Since 1935 we have flown to the Moon, fought half a dozen wars, and expanded the Federal Government’s scope on a scale of which our Founders could not have dreamed.

In 2010, and for the first time in its history, the Social Security Administration paid out more in benefits than it received in tax revenues. The eight-decade-long national party, fueled by the nation’s Social Security surpluses, is over. In order to get our house in order, all Americans must endure a generation-long hangover of shared responsibility, austerity and prudence.

The problem with fiscal responsibility is that Americans don’t much care for it. Former Senator Alan Simpson, co-chair of President Obama’s National Debt Commission, told the Casper Star-Tribune, "while every interest group that testified before [the] committee agreed that the mounting federal debt is a national tragedy, they would then talk about why government funding to their area of interest shouldn't be touched." Among these groups were current recipients of Social Security and Medicare. Their powerful AARP lobbyists are insistent that its constituents continue to receive increased benefits. Senator Simpson (who by the way is 79) opined, "We had the greatest generation…. I think this is the greediest generation."

If the Greatest Generation’s mantra is “I got mine”, the generation to which I belong –- the Baby Boomer generation -- stands behind them whining, “I want mine too”. We Baby Boomers appear more than capable of inheriting the so-called “Greediest Generation’s” mantle and taking it to new levels. All of us over the age of 45 continue to party like it’s 1999 (remember the “peace dividend” and the budget surplus) with money charged to the account of our children and to the account of the children who will not be born for decades.

Over the past 30 years Baby Boomers bought houses we could not reasonably afford, we leased cars for over $500 a month, we accrued over one trillion dollars of unsecured credit card debt and over one trillion dollars of unpaid student loans, we’ve paid over $100 a month to watch HBO on financed $3000 plasma televisions, and we’ve bought $600 iPhones with $200 per month calling plans while making insufficient plans to save for old age or medical care. And we accrued this debt with the expectation that dear old Uncle Sam will be there to take care of us when we are broke, old and sick.

We are wrong. Things that cannot go on will stop.

The “official” national debt is currently over fourteen trillion dollars ($14,000,000,000,000.00). Unfortunately, that’s the good news. The bad news is that sum does not account for the unfunded future liabilities of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the total outstanding obligations of the United States under its current entitlement programs is two hundred two trillion dollars ($202,000,000,000,000.00). That is one-fifth of a quadrillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000,000.00 x .20).

Neither you nor I can count that high. To put that sum in perspective, imagine that you were to count at the rate of one dollar per second. One million seconds is about 12 days. One billion seconds is about 30 years. One trillion seconds is about 30,000 years. Two hundred two trillion seconds is over 6 million years.

We Americans have experimented with various economic theories to “keep the party going” under the guise that we can fund all its activities and lower annual deficits. How have we progressed in solving the deficit problem? In the face of this overwhelming inundating debt, 47 percent of Americans currently pay no Federal Income Tax. None. Notwithstanding, there is a grass roots movement for a revised income tax code that could address the National Debt problem through a simplified “flat tax”. However, (without referring to official data and only relying on instinct) if it was actually proposed by the President, I postulate that 47 percent of Americans would find themselves suddenly against it.

In the past few years the Keynesian economists have had two rounds of quantitative easing and increased deficit spending in an effort to stimulate the economy. During the 1980s and 1990s, the supply-side economists cut taxes in an attempt to “trickle down” prosperity. These two experiments brought us two crippling banking crises and two recessionary “bursted economic bubbles”. Notwithstanding the merits or faults of these experiments, we now stand athwart debts and obligations not imagined in human history.

What we have been doing to our country’s future generations is equivalent to having a 235 year long shopping spree at Tiffany & Co. via credit card identity theft. Resolutions for these problems will not occur if the left and the right continue to insist they have the only answer. We have to come together and realize that we share a common enterprise called the United States of America, and that we each must bear responsibility. That necessarily means painful remedies will be applied to all individuals.

The invoice for the Twentieth Century and the last decade is now in our mailbox. For Americans to protest without offering viable alternative solutions to necessary budget cuts and expanded taxation as our political leaders (from both sides of the aisle) craft answers to the fiscal problems is a course of wrongful conduct; Americans must break the habit of insisting that their little corner of government largess must not be affected. We must refrain from our old selfish ways and reorient ourselves to our dutiful responsibilities. “Ask not what your country can do for you…ask what you can do for your country.”

Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr. is an attorney in Stevensville.
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