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Taxes, Medicare, and the Sad Hypocrisy of Certain Baby Boomers

February 12, 2012

This is an excellent story. It generally outlines the hypocrisy of the older middle classes, especially in white rural America, in relation to government spending—the disconnect between the benefits they receive and their political rhetoric of government excess. I especially liked these passages about Medicare:

Medicare’s starring role in the nation’s financial problems is not well understood. Only 22 percent of respondents to the New York Times poll correctly identified Medicare as the fastest-growing benefits program. A greater number of respondents, 27 percent, chose programs for the poor. That category, which includes Medicaid, is slightly larger than Medicare today but is projected to add only half as much to federal spending over the next decade.

Medicare’s financial problems are much worse than Social Security’s. A worker earning average wages still pays enough in Social Security taxes to cover the benefits the worker is likely to receive in retirement, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute. …

A woman who was 45 in 2010, earning $43,500 a year, will pay taxes that will reach a value of $87,000 by the time she retires, assuming the money is invested at an annual interest rate 2 percentage points above inflation, according to the Urban Institute analysis. But on average, the government will then spend $275,000 on her medical care. The average is somewhat lower for men, because women live longer.

Medicare is often described as an insurance program, but its premiums are not nearly high enough. In simple terms, Americans are getting more than they pay for.

But many older residents in Chisago [a county northeast of Minneapolis] say this problem belongs to younger generations. They paid what they were told; they want to collect what they were promised.

This last sentiment is just ridiculous. It bugs me to no end. I despise the hypocrisy in relation to “responsibility.” It’s fine to hope for lower taxes, but let’s cut programs on which we spend excessively (e.g. military). Or let’s cut our subsidies to large corporations (e.g. for oil exploration).

I think I’m especially bitter about this article because I once wrote in the Honorable James Oberstar for president. He was one of my favorite members of congress.

Getting away from these specific gripes, I appreciated the article’s willingness to delve into political science and philosophy. Here’s a passage I found especially intriguing:

One of the oldest criticisms of democracy is that the people will inevitably drain the treasury by demanding more spending than taxes. The theory is that citizens who get more than they pay for will vote for politicians who promise to increase spending.

But Dean P. Lacy, a professor of political science at Dartmouth College [and no relation to the author of this post], has identified a twist on that theme in American politics over the last generation. Support for Republican candidates, who generally promise to cut government spending, has increased since 1980 in states where the federal government spends more than it collects. The greater the dependence, the greater the support for Republican candidates.

Conversely, states that pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits tend to support Democratic candidates. And Professor Lacy found that the pattern could not be explained by demographics or social issues.

I think that “oldest criticism” derives from either Plato or Aristotle. I’ll have to look that up.

In the meantime, how about that Republican rhetoric—or at least the followers of today’s incarnation of the Republican party. “The greater the dependence, the greater [their] support.” Amazing. And how about the responsibility of those that support Democratic candidates? Talk about responsibility and values. – TL


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