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As a Baby Boomer I see one great nation-crushing-crisis coming to America. This crisis can bankrupt the Republic and, I believe, is a greater danger than any external enemy! (This is not to belittle the real threat from our open and secret external enemies many of whom call themselves our Allies. But that's for another commentary). As great as that external danger presently is, there is no doubt in my mind that once America's largest generation, the Baby Boomer's come fully into retirement age, the Social Security and Medicare system will collapse and that this collapse will have grave consequences for our country! The smoke and mirrors used by politicians to show that the medical welfare / pension system is financially sound will collapse for one very simple reason; there will be more folks feeding from the Social Security / Medicare trough than feeding money into it! It's just that simple. To maintain the current level of hand outs for the boomer generation would mean we would need to tax the Ex and Digital generation into oblivion which would, as in the socialist countries of Western Europe, stunt economic growth, business incentive, the upward mobility of young workers and delete funds from programs needed for everything from helping children to defending the country. At current spending levels, with the smaller generations now collecting benefits, entitlement programs, i.e.: Social Security and Medicare, take up 60 cents of every US tax dollar collected! (In contrast defense spending has never been more than 14% of the Federal Budget even at the height of WWII, and at current levels of spending is less than 10%). When the boomer's all come into the system, 60% of the Federal Budget won't be enough to keep them in benefits.
Sweden had several consecutive years of zero economic growth due to their social welfare system, Germany is having to pare down their socialized medical system to keep from going broke and currently France is having large scale protests and labor strikes because the government wants to trim retirement benefits to keep the economy from collapsing. All of Europe, with their low birth rates, are having to import guest workers by the millions to both keep their industries working and to pay money into the pension funds to pay seniors currently on the dole. The importation of workers will only stem the tide of economic decline temporarily and IS costing Europe their culture, but that again is for a different commentary.
In the 70's and 80's the Boomer's complained, "Get the old off of our backs," as one weekly news magazine reported. The Ex'ers and D generations will scream even louder than the Boomers did about the cost of maintaining seniors because it will cost them much more of their income in taxes than it did the Boomers when they were paying for their parents generation benefits.
My ire gets raised when politicians, in efforts to buy votes, promise and deliver higher and higher levels of benefits without a thought as to how those will be paid for by the younger generations of workers or the consequences of the cost of higher benefits to those workers, to productivity, to the economy and the nation as a whole. Seniors seem oblivious to the damage they are inflecting on the country they helped build and defend. Or could it be that the politicians just haven't told them how bad things are because leveling with them would cost them the votes of the Grey Panthers?
There are three things my generation can do to keep from being a burden both to their own children and to the country:
See Social Security and Medicare for what they are, senior welfare and accept that we will take less in medical and pension benefits than our parents did. Some of us may want to be independent of it entirely. Benefits should be graded according to income, with the truly needy receiving the full benefits and those of better means less. Overall the Boomers have been the most successful generation America has ever produced and as such fewer of us need as much help as our parents and grandparents did.
Practice anti-aging and preventative maintenance to avoid the debilitating and catastrophic diseases and chronic conditions our parents came down with that demanded so much in medical attention and tax dollars. Many of us have seen how badly our parents have faired health wise and how horribly they've died at the hands of allopathic medicine and we don't want to go that way! Over all, the Boomers are looking younger, healthier and are fitter than our parents were at the same age so we have a decent start. But, since fitness and health decline rapidly after 50, that edge can quickly deteriorate if we don't care for ourselves and avoid medical fads.
What are medical fads? Here are two examples 1) The low cholesterol diet. In 30 years lowering cholesterol has done nothing to lower the numbers of patients who suffer strokes and heart disease. But it has had sweeping unintended consequences. Sixty to seventy % of our brains are cholesterol, everything we think with, remember with and use to signal movement and speech with is a fat. We have nothing to show for 30 years of the low cholesterol diet except for a monumental increase in Alzheimer's, a disease where there is a wasting of the fatty portions of the brain. Prior to the mid '70's med students were taught that they would likely never see an Alzheimer's case in their practice lifetimes as there were only 4 cases per one million people. That can't be said now! Fad # 2 An aspirin a day. Producing renal failure, liver toxicity, even heart attack and stroke via withdrawal (see the article on aspirin in the archived section of www.drwong.us), this fad is quickly proving wrong as aspirin is also now associated with higher rates of pancreatic cancer and diabetes.
Lose our fear of dying. Up to 60% of seniors Medicare costs are incurred in the last 3 weeks of life usually attempting to stop the impossible. As one Canadian doctor put it once during an interview "You Americans just don't ever expect to die"? We Yanks have a culture where even though we may profess a belief in an Almighty and an afterlife, there is a great doubt that it really exists and a great fear of what lies on the other side of physical life. Religious belief and all the stories of near death experiences aside we still hold onto life thinking that physical existence, no matter how painful and miserable, is preferable to not being here! Even when death is inevitable, we fear it's coming instead of preparing ourselves for a peaceful transition. With something as inevitable as death, does it not make sense to study how one can go through this "change of address" without the stress, without worry and without the fear that makes us and our loved ones claw onto any hope of continuing our existence no matter how dysfunctional and miserable?
This will sound corny given today's mores but here goes: It is our patriotic duty to cost our society as little as possible so that our children and grandchildren, the younger generations who will have the job of building and maintaining their families and society, can live the American dream even as we did. In order to not be a drain on the public pension and medical support system we need to be healthier than previous generations and much more preventive in our outlook so we don't come down with as many, complicated, serious, or as large a number of ills as our parents did. It's time also for a change in outlook, of thinking that the country owes us an existence; it owes most of us nothing. America only owes its Veterans and sadly those who never put their "asses" on the line defending the country often receive more in support and benefits than those who did!
Whether we have reaped the fruit of the American life and its opportunities or allowed the dream to be just that by not striving, our time is coming to an end. We should now get ready to quietly step out of the way and not scuttle the American dream for future generations.
It's coming time for the ME generation to stop thinking about "me" and start living the words of Jack Kennedy when he said the oft quoted but seldom followed phrase:"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".
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