Monday, March 30, 2009

Babies That Go "BOOM"

I'm only now beginning to understand why all Americans aren't running around with their hair on fire and screaming, "The baby boom is coming, the baby boom is coming, hide your money." Most simply don't accurately know what and who the baby boom is. Even the national press corps is somewhat cloudy on the issue. For instance, with the election of BHO, many in the media talked of the "new generation" taking the helm. Sorry press boys and girls but BHO is also (gasp!) a boomer.

BHO was born in 1961, making him three years older than the youngest of the baby boomers, those born in 1964. I am, my-own-wizened-self, very nearly the oldest of boomers, having been born in January of 1946, the first year of the post WW II birth boom (nothing like a defeat of fascism to get the old libido pumped up, eh?). Therefore, starting with "When in doubt, whip it out, Clinton", through "Don't misunderestimate me, Bush" and through "Hope is a strategy, BHO", whatever his tenure turns out to be, the country will experience 20 to 24 years of baby boomer administrative leadership.

When Sarah Palin becomes president in January of 2017 (visible shudder), THEN we will have passed the torch to the next generation. Of course, if the Terminator has successfully changed the Constitutional restrictions by then and becomes president, the baby boom, with a little help from hot Austrian loins, will continue its strangle-hold on the reins of power.

Suffice to say, the baby boom covers more chronological territory than most Americans understand, except demographers (a fun, fun group). A generation covers about 18 years, the time it takes for an infant to become old enough to start producing babies of his or her own. There are some fecund and formerly precocious older boomers who have children who are also boomers. Now that is profoundly weird.

When the concept of the baby boom is discussed today, many people think only of 60's Flower Children, Vietnam vets and Woodstock mud. True, but that is far too narrow a slice of the generation to get a real sense of dread for what the "aging of the baby boom" means to our country and its treasury. You may have noticed that our treasury is already under a bit of stress; it's been in all the papers (for those of you who read papers). As serious as it is, we ain't seen nothin' yet.

In exactly 20 years, the youngest boomers will celebrate their 65th and the oldest boomers will be 83. Even considering that some will have gone to their own Strawberry Fields Forever by then, the actuarial crowd (another fun party group) estimates that America will look like Florida does today, with every fourth person a qualified geezer at the public trough. If I take care, I'll be slopping there my-own-shrunken-self. Currently, it is only every eighth American who is old enough to slop.

The promises made by our elected officials since 1935 (Social Security) and 1965 (Medicare), to all those who have the foresight to reach the age of 65, are far beyond what the national pocketbook can afford, once the tsunami of boomers begins to muscle their way to the trough. The elected officials have known this for a long, long, long time but making more and bigger promises keeps them in office, the future be damned. (W gave us unfunded Medicare prescription drug coverage but McCain lost anyway, so sometimes the strategy fails.)

These entitlement chickens are coming home to roost and they are in a foul mood (I apologize for that one. No really, I do.)

Here's my reality. Only those of us in the baby boom can save America from the baby boom. We can do it through modest shared sacrifice by say, agreeing that some affluent portion of us could get by nicely on 95% of the Social Security that the fiscally irresponsible blowhards in Congress said that we were going to get. Bill Gates, Donald Trump and others of us don't need 100 cents on every dollar promised in order to live a comfortable retirement. If Bill, Don and I all kick and scream and demand our 100 cents on the dollar, then our children and grandchildren will see us for the navel gazing, greedy generation that we promised not to be back in our idealistic days.

Harder will be the changes necessary to shield America from the rampaging financial bull that Medicare/Medicaid are becoming. Make no mistake, these programs have many systemic problems that desperately need correction, fraud and financial abuse being prime examples. However, the programs actually work pretty well as a (sorta) single-payer health system for retirees and the destitute. The poisonous ingredient in the Medicare (and Medicaid) soup is health care cost inflation of 7% each year. If America doesn't finally address and solve our market-driven health care cost inflation challenge, Medicare and Medicaid will sink the ship of state. The solution that Washington has adopted to date is, "Quick, have the orchestra play something perky".

Solving the Medicare/Medicaid challenge means changing, and dramatically so, our health care system. That is what makes it difficult and a problem that all Americans, not just boomers, will have to approach while trying to ignore the screeching coming from the extreme ends of the political bell curve and those of the special interests groups. This is also why, in spite of doubters, BHO is keeping health care reform as part of the agenda in the midst of this financial crisis.

As a voting block of 77 million, baby boomers hold the key. United, we can prove ourselves a great generation, not just a great big generation. Divided, however, our ability to secure the fiscal future of the country vanishes in opposing ideologies. We've already tried it that way and it has brought us to a perilous place.

Have two epiphanies and call me in the morning.


Observoid of the Day: Always keep your fork, there may be pie.

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