Kicking the Kid Down the Road

Since "kicking the can down the road" is a cliche, Andrew Biggs proposes a replacement phrase for use when discussing America's federal budget: kicking the kid down the road.

After all, it’s our kids, not cans, who will feel the boot as multiplying debt forces future taxpayers to do even more with even less.

Along these lines, Matt Yglesias cries foul at possible social security cuts that would exempt current beneficiaries (i.e. older folks today) yet cut payouts for future beneficiaries.

You frequently hear of the need to exempt everyone over the age of 55 from any possible cuts. That’s nice for them and encourages them to go right on complaining about out of control spending. But the average 55 year-old will still be alive and collecting benefits in 2035 so the long-term budgetary implications of this “let the geezers keep their full benefits while they whine about how Democrats are bankrupting the country” are actually pretty significant.

As Matt says, we have a large and loud class of older folks calling for fiscal austerity measures — which is good — but the pain should be spread evenly, and certainly not unduly shouldered by the kids and grandkids of today, who, besides, had nothing to do with creating this mess in the first place.

5 Responses to Kicking the Kid Down the Road

  1. John J. Walters says:

    Agreed. The idea that I will be paying more and more into an entitlement program that will probably not exist by the time I would be old enough to benefit from it really burns me up, as does the fact that we spend 40% of our federal budget on SS, Medicare, and Medicaid — programs that didn’t really exist until 1965.

    In fact, this was the subject of my blog for the Maryland Public Policy Institute on Friday:
    link to mdpolicy.org

  2. Laocoon says:

    Before 1965 my grandmother lived on next to nothing. No pension after grandpa died, minimal Social Security. She took in aged veterans for the rent money. She couldn’t afford a doctor. She sold her house and moved in with a friend, until she died.

    If you want to cut Social Security benefits, then buy a big house now, grant your aging parents a life estate [right to live there], and set aside enough to generate money for their food and upkeep.

    Otherwise, who’s going to take care of them?

    After 1965, as we monetized more labor, with women working outside the home, the family structure that used to take care of children and the elderly broke down. The replacement structure has been incomplete, especialy for people without large extended families.

    You simply cannot compare life before 1965 with life since then. Our society is totally different, and for the better. You can’t romanticize the pre-1965 era with millions of elderly living in poverty [my grandparents didn’t have enough for heat, and they had all been comfortably middle-class]. I remember many elderly people whom I visited in the 1950s-60s living in squalor.

    As a moral society, we cannot go back to conditions as they were for the elderly. We cannot pick and choose based on fantasies about how great life used to be, or how great it would be if we just had more money in our paychecks now. We need to find another way, and find it soon.

  3. Shefaly says:

    Ben:

    On //… who, besides, had nothing to do with creating this mess in the first place//, what about kids enjoying privileges that they had no hand in creating?

    The point is in the end, someone pays. Fr everything. Who pays? Negotiating that is what life is all about. Isn’t it?

    Some rich people famously pay very little tax anywhere; but other rich people donate their wealth to support social causes that governments by rights should be addressing through policy. Who is paying eventually?

    It is of course ironic to see what you guys in the US are trying to create when the medical and health institution that is almost synonymous with the UK – the NHS – is being demolished bit by bit by our government.

  4. Ben Casnocha says:

    Shefaly, agreed, but usually the best approach is pay-as-you-go. That's
    generally the way it works and has worked for many years. In the US,
    certain budget proposals would be anomalous to this approach.

    What's going on in the UK is interesting…

  5. Laocoon says:

    Governments work as pay-as-you-go because generally they cannot legally make binding commitments beyond the current budget year. They often do, in a de facto way, but the continuation is based on iterating renewal for the current year, rather that a long-term commitment analogous to a private sector contract.

    This raises a more fundamental question of are we doing it this way because we always have or because we should? It’s another deep assumption about society, our expectations of each other, and our collective future. Just because it wasn’t managed as well as it might have been, doesn’t mean we need to blow up the existing system. There is too much political scare talk in the media and too many people think the system is broken when some changes would, over time, be reasonable.

    If you unravel the current system, then what replaces it?

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