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Pushing a car off a cliff

By Frank Hyland
web posted January 14, 2008

Food for thought.

Picture this if you will: You are on the way to a soccer game in your car with your kids and the children of neighbors in the back seat. Your SUV has been acting up and again this time the engine falters and sputters. It is running so poorly that you realize clearly that it is destined to wind up on the shoulder of the downhill side of the road, to run no more. The kids sit there disconsolately, staring out the windows, waiting for you to take some action on their behalf so that they can make
it to "the game."

Now try to imagine yourself walking around to the rear of the vehicle and pushing it forward, only to realize that you and the children are approaching the edge of a cliff.

Dumb Question # 287: What do you do when you realize that the SUV is picking up speed toward the cliff's edge? It was a trick question for anyone with more than four functioning brain cells. Of course you would do everything in your power, once you saw the danger ahead, to stop the vehicle before the children were hurt. Why, then, would anyone continue pushing your kids and others' kids toward and over a cliff, you ask? Why, indeed.

By now you've hopefully figured out that the "SUV" is the federal and state programs collectively known as "entitlements," chief among them being Social Security and Medicare. Both have been the subject of repeated warnings, followed by repeated creation of commissions to investigate and recommend solutions. I would recommend, for openers, the near-term renaming of both, to become Social Insecurity and Mediscare as a means of getting the attention of those who still hope to become recipients.

In case those pushing the two programs off the cliff haven't noticed, we're now in the year 2008. It was one thing for proponents to put things off when we were still in the 20th Century, back in the ‘90s, and insolvency was still more than a decade away. For those who get elected every six, four, and especially for those elected every two years, that's a lifetime and the problems can safely be "kicked down the road" for others to deal with. Depending on the date of the estimate and the source, the year of impending insolvency swings back and forth by a year or so.

So Social Security is projected to begin taking in less money than it puts out in 2017 or so. Medicare is approaching the edge of the cliff even faster, with projected insolvency for the part that pays the hospital happening circa 2030. For someone who is already 86 or 92 years of age and who long ago stopped buying green bananas, that's okay. For someone aged 40, it should be downright terrifying.

The solutions put forth during the ongoing campaign to be our next President, predictably, range from establishing personal accounts to – you guessed it – establishing another commission to study the problem. The idea of personal accounts is anathema to them, of course. Why? They represent competition. The very idea of tens of millions of constituents freed from the tethers of taxes for Social Security and Medicare strikes fear deep into what's left of their hearts. In the same manner, the idea of school vouchers that allow parents to shop for adequate education for their children throws teachers' unions and the educational establishment into fits of apoplexy. At the heart of the matter is the belief on the part of those who govern, genuine in many cases, that they know better than we do. It is condescension of the worst sort because it robs us, not only of our money, but of our self respect.

To top it all off, you would think that the strength of those who have us hang onto Social Security is based on it being a superior product. It is far from that. Depending on your situation – income; amount paid in; marital status; age – your rate of return can vary from just over one percent to actually a negative rate of "return." Take a look at the advertisements by banks, savings and loans, credit unions, and other types of institutions, specifically at the rates of return that they offer. Compare those, if you can stomach it, to that of Social Security.

So if I understand this correctly, those who govern us have 1) studied the situation carefully and chosen the optimal solution for our golden years, with our best interests at heart; 2) are giving us an inferior return on our money that is taken out of our paychecks every payday via payroll taxes rather than allowing us any option; and 3) are continuing to favor and tinker with a system that they know is already projected to become insolvent in the not-too-distant future. That about sums it up, except to say that, to add insult to injury, we're told that we, too, must get behind the SUV and help to push it off the cliff with our children in it. ESR

Frank Hyland is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.


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