by Barry Edelson


The Old Man's (Debt) Burden


What wouldn't we sacrifice for the little darlings?

Our beloved politicians habitually assert that the current generation is saddling future generations with debilitating debt. For some reason, this habit becomes more pronounced during elections, but it is heard in all seasons as an exhortation to financial responsibility, and typically delivered by those esteemed leaders who are best situated to grasp the critical importance of fiscal restraint. Through their meticulous management of the public coffers, our elected officials have demonstrated time and again just how much we should trust them to determine how the national debt should be reined in, and, with their superhuman perceptiveness, to define precisely what "the American people" want them to do about it.

Though the delineation of the generations is generally ill-defined — when exactly does "this" generation give way to the "next", and what age group does each encompass? — the message is plain: It is implicitly improper or even immoral to expect the young to support the old. Where did all of these "old" people on Social Security and Medicare ever get the idea that they had the right to burden their "grandchildren" with the cost of keeping them from living out their remaining, unproductive days in poor health and destitution? Isn't our society predicated on the very principle that parents must sacrifice everything for their children, and that their children are under no obligation to sacrifice anything in return?

In fact, to bring consistency to the application of this founding principle, there are a number of measures that ought to be taken immediately to reduce the gross inequities that exist between "generations". Let's consider education. Since property taxes in most states are collected mostly to pay for the education of the young, and since older residents on "fixed incomes" are commonly considered especially vulnerable to higher taxes, conventional wisdom has long held that said older homeowners should either be exempted from the full impact of rising property taxes, or that the rate of increase of such taxes should be restricted in order to lessen its impact on everyone. Clearly, this violates the sacred principle described above. If anything, taxes on the oldest homeowners should be greater than on those with young children, as they self-evidently have the least to lose from confiscatory rates of taxation.

Further, if such taxes increase to such a degree that senior citizens are forced to sell their homes and move to states where the cost of living is lower, this outcome would (1) reduce the cost of real estate by introducing a glut of "new" homes into the market, thereby (2) providing much-needed housing for younger couples eager to start a family for which they too can sacrifice everything, and (3) consequently increasing the population of older residents who enjoy bloated, government-provided incomes in "poorer" states where the quality of schools suffers in proportion to the poverty of its property owners, and where the cost of health care is lower in relation to the feeling that there is not much to live for anyway.

There are any number of other public services that would benefit greatly from shifting the burden of responsibility to the shoulders of those who are morally bound to provide them. We could easily provide better health care, recreational facilities, day care and preschool training for children if we were not so squeamish about asking our oldest citizens to assume the obligations that they, as Americans, are sworn to make. Why are we wasting billions on "medication" and "surgery" for individuals who have little time left among the breathing when those who desperately need every penny of assistance we can offer are literally crying out for the sustenance that the Constitution guarantees?

Another obvious corrective measure concerns military service. If we truly believe that it is the duty of the "old" to sacrifice themselves for the "young", why is it that we send our youngest, most vulnerable and most promising talent off to war when there are millions of retirees who are doing little but sucking the public treasury dry? Surely the vast experience and superior judgment that they would bring to the battlefield would more than compensate for any diminution of physical abilities that may have occurred along the path of life. We read so much about "the greatest generation" that fought in World War II. What made them so great? Their willingness to sacrifice! So why should that sacrifice have ended in 1945? If they are as great as we say they are, they would surely be eager to return to the fray that so defined their lives, and prompted them to spend the last 67 years wearing caps with the names of old navy ships on them. They could hardly say no.

The "Wealth" of "Nations"

While they are educating us on the perils of debt and the obligations of the elderly, political leaders also see fit, with their exceptional financial acumen, to remind us how ordinary people have to "balance their checkbooks." This astute recognition of the household management of each and every American family is meant to contrast the wholesome image of moms and dads writing checks at the kitchen table while the kids do their homework in front of the television in the next room, with the depraved recklessness of profligate politicians, who are most definitely not the same politicians who are making the comparison. We are told that governments ought to be held to the same impeccable standards that "regular" people live by. In other words, why should the government be allowed to run up unpronounceable levels of debt, much of it to pay for "entitlements" that disappear into the pockets of "old" and "poor" and "old poor" people who aren't exactly working for it, when "normal" people play by the rules and pay their bills on time every month?

To understand exactly how this works and why the comparison of family parsimony to national fiscal suicide is so apt, there are some important factors that we must keep in "mind". When government debt is measured against total national income, that is called the debt-to-GDP ratio. This means how much total money does the evil, liberal government owe compared to how much income the exceptional "American people" produce each year. (GDP stands for "gross domestic product", something that none of us is qualified to understand.) For example, in the United States, the debt-to-GDP ratio is about 103 percent. In other words, we have about as much total debt to pay off as all the money made in the whole economy in one year. By comparison, Germany, considered a model for fiscal probity if for nothing else, has a debt-to-GDP ratio of "only" 82 percent, while Greece, the nation that invented ethics but appears not to have one in regards to working, has a ratio of 165 percent.

Now, you are probably itching to ask a question right about now: Why is the government's debt ratio of little more 100 percent considered too great for the nation to bear, while your "average" family's home mortgage, car loans, college loans and credit card debt add up to a crushing total of more than 300 percent of your annual income? The answer is obvious: You are a hard-working, law-abiding taxpayer who doesn't shirk your responsibilities. You don't walk away from your mortgage even when your home value plummets. You would consider a declaration of personal "bankruptcy" so shameful that you would be unable to show your face in public for the rest of your life. The government's debt, on the other hand, is a conspiracy of immoral politicians, greedy bankers and shady foreign influences. The only reason the government has no problem paying its debt, and is enjoying the lowest interest rates in history, while you find it difficult to make ends meet even while working four full-time jobs and sleeping 30 minutes every other day, is because families are "good" and the government is "bad".

So the next time you sit around the kitchen table perspiring heavily and hyperventilating over your stack of monthly bills, in a scene of domestic purity worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting, remember that the purpose of your life is to sacrifice everything — your wealth, health and mental stability — for the sake of the children in the next room, who are at this very moment taking a break from their strenuous academic studies to check a mobile device, which you foolishly bought for them in a moment of sentimental weakness during the holidays, in order to see what their friends are saying about the really, really important stuff that someone posted about someone else on Facebook today. Some day in the future, when they reach "adulthood" and lift their gaze from the screen just long enough to remember that you exist, they will no doubt thank you for everything you've done for them by complaining about the taxes they have to pay to keep you and your kind from subsisting on a daily diet of dog food.

June 3, 2012


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All writings on this site are copyrighted by Barry Edelson. Reprinting by permission only.