Entitlements We Can No Longer Afford
Now that our government appears to be better balanced than it has been for the past two years, perhaps we can take a good long look at entitlements we cannot afford.
In a way, our promise-them-anything government has been like the father who promises his child a shiny new red bicycle but can't pay the rent or put food on the table. Sooner or later the Piper will demand payment.
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are fine ideas - or at least they were when they were conceived. However, each of them has been abused to a point where bankruptcy lies just around the bend.
Social Security was originally devised to help the elderly in retirement. There was never a thought that, in itself, it would provide a comfortable income. And, contrary to an election ad which had people saying, "That's my money. ... Keep your hands off it," most of us will take far more from Social Security than we ever put in. The disability part of it has lawyers falling all over themselves to advertise on TV that they can get you a monthly check even if Social Security has turned you down.
Where Medicare is concerned, everybody wants a piece of the pie. I cringe every time I see one of those commercials offering multi-thousand-dollar scooters for "little or no cost to you." They are but a small part of the luxury goodie bags offered under Medicare. That's not what it was designed for; those freebies have little to do with health care.
Then there are the drug companies that advertise lavishly as they try to trick us into asking our doctor about medications that by their own words can kill us. Note that none of the above even hints of the outright fraud that is rampant in Medicare.
Managed responsibly, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid can survive, but checks and balances need to be exercised yesterday.
Social Security is only one leg of the three-legged stool we all need in retirement. The other two legs are pensions or 401K plans and savings. Of course, not everyone gets a pension, and some have difficulty putting away enough to shore up the difference. But that still does not mean Social Security can take up the slack.
Promising that it can is just another way to buy votes as our leaders kick the can of reckoning down the road. The day will come (sooner than we think) when China just won't lend us any more money and printing more simply leads to a wheelbarrow of worthless paper needed to buy a loaf of bread - as was the case in Germany in the 1930s.
The following statement is often attributed to a Scottish-born lawyer named Alexander Fraser Tytler:
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse (defined as a liberal gift) from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, followed always by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years."
Whether Tytler originated that statement or not, it does not take an oracle to see the wisdom of it and the evidence that there are those who are striving to bring our democracy down.
Fortunately, the recent elections brought out enough Americans who saw the danger and stood up to block it. Now it is up to the new Congress to be realistic and do away with the extreme elements of both Social Security and our health plans in order to preserve them for future generations.
If those of us who are currently benefiting from these entitlements have to forgo some unwarranted largesse, it will be done in the true spirit of a charitable nation that plans for our grandchildren.
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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