Mana from government

One sentence stuck out to me from an otherwise poignant article on healthcare and assistance for the very elderly:

Politicians are champing at the bit to cut back on Social Security and Medicare at a time when so many of us will depend on them.

I know this is just a throwaway shorthand and I shouldn’t get so worked up about it. But I find it incredibly difficult to believe that any self-interested politician wouldn’t lavish cash on the elderly (a.k.a. reliable voters) if it was feasible to do so. Even if I’m wrong about that, this is an example of an omission that sometimes bothers me: in some broad sense, resources have to come from somewhere. Slightly earlier in the article is this:

American political leaders are not preparing adequately for the huge demographic shift caused by the aging of the boomers, who began turning sixty-five in 2011. 

So surely the earlier quotation should really say that all else equal politicians will have to find a way to cut back on Social Security and Medicare? What would the preparation be? The proportion of the population that is working-age is going to fall. That means fewer people working to turn stuff into other useful stuff, and more people not working but hoping for a share of the stuff. Something must give. Either more stuff has to be foregone by the workers, or less stuff enjoyed by the non-workers.

Government, whatever it is, isn’t a grumpy gatekeeper protecting a bottomless barrel of stuff and saying “no, no, no”. We can disagree about what government should do, of course, but let’s not pretend that there aren’t constraints.

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