Sunday, November 18, 2012

Boomers: Take One for the Team

Fiscal cliff? Deficits? 

I have a solution.

The question is, what's the problem? Fair enough, since we're exiting an election season where the real truth of that particular issue got short shrift. But my take:

  1. The country's infrastructure is breaking. Cracking. Dissembling. Too many bridges are not earthquake proof and more need to be built. Too many highways are in crappy shape. Too many airports need serious upgrades. Too many power grids fail, internet access is spotty, the Post Office is going broke, teacher and public employee unions suck in more than their corresponding states or cities or counties can pay, and so on.
  2. Medicare is tap city. Social Security, in the not-too-far-future, might be more underwater than a depth-charged World War II submarine.
  3. All in all, the U.S. government's debt exceed its Gross Domestic Product.
That's enough for starters. The solution? Easy. Less spending and more revenue. Which has the same resonance as Save the Brazilian Rainforest. The call sounds reasonable, but no one who can do anything seems to hear anything.

We've heard all that. As for spending, it's "Don't gore my ox, man." Don't take my pension benefits. Don't take my benefit." Not enough money to build a useful Jersey Tunnel. Can't afford the expansion of bottlenecked roads. Seismic upgrades for Northwest Coast cities? Fuhgeddaboudit. Whatever. And as for revenue? It's Huey Long's "Don't tax me, don't tax thee, tax that fellow under the tree."

Know what? I don't want to leave my kids and grandkids with cracking bridges and stuff that could have been fixed but now, can't, because there's no money. Money that was diverted to, well, see above. My solutions?

  1. Dump the payroll tax limit for the Social Security tax. Currently, it stops at $110,000. That's silly. This change alone would bail the whole program out.
  2. Means test for Medicare, Social Security and tax preferences. I mean, seriously: Do well-off people, whom I begrudge nothing and honestly applaud (except for trust fund liberals, coupon-clipping conservatives, & C.) need to pay the same for their benefits as retired pipe fitters and homeless veterans? Mmm, not, say I.
  3. If need be, cities, counties and states need to file BK and tell public employee unions the money just isn't there anymore. We'll pony up as best as we can and schedule out the cuts to mitigate the pain, but hey. It's not politics, it's not personal, it's not ideological. It's arithmetic.
  4. This is the most important: Boomers need to die sooner. No seppuku or harakiri here, just realize when it's time to buy the farm.
The first two items, I'm thinking, will probably come to pass in some way. I mean, seriously. Should the country give folks with homes on four coasts and two inland lakes the same mortgage tax deduction as a family where the wife is an urban planner and the husband a surveyor?  And is anything wrong with changing the Medicare insurance deductible to, say, $20,000 for people whose Mastercard limit is several times that amount? Yes, said no one...ever.

However, definitions of when to pull the plug on oneself depends on the person, his or her eschatological definitions and so on. Some people think the lights go out when God has determined that they should. I'll leave it for another argument on whether or not God, in these situations, ought to cough up if He controls the electricity, especially if it's for an obese, alcoholic diabetic who smokes two packs a day.

Too many of society's resources are wasted in keeping people alive past the point of the joy, utility, discovery and redemption of being alive. Twenty years ago, my father, at 89, had a stroke on Monday and died on Friday, staying on life support in an ICU. The Medicare bill was about $20,000. He was not among the super-rich by any means, but he could have easily afforded the bill. Instead, the taxpayers took care of it.

Maybe that worked in 1992. It doesn't, now.

For me, the time to cash out is that moment when Assisted Living is my only option.

Now, I have seen some perfectly capable people in Assisted Living carrying on, taking care of their mates, making a contribution and generally adding to the richness of their friends and family. An 80-year-old good friend in another city moved to Assisted Living when his wife's Parkinson's Disease advanced and he couldn't care for her, even as he was still working on the Mars Lander as a Professor Emeritus. So it goes.

But honestly, these folks are in the minority. I've moved a parent, a cousin, and a brother into Assisted Living. Thank fortune I didn't have to suggest it to my father, who'd have seriously studied up on his Second Amendment rights at the suggestion.

I've made many, many rounds through Assisted Living places, and I do not want to live there when my health and well-being makes doing so my only option. They kind of smell like poop. The staff, reasonably, treats the residents like children. Most residents have that deer-in-the-headlight look. Some sit slack-jawed all day in their wheelchairs, only showing signs of life when the dinner bell rings. Others ask the same question several dozen times, every day.

Drive down most any suburban street in America, and you'll see more Assisted Living projects than Carter has pills, as my father would have said (I never got the allusion). And that doesn't count the thousands of private homes, nor the many-more uncountable places where the kids and grandkids take care of the degenerating old. 

Getting old sucks, but for me, I want to live, not just exist. When my existence is nothing more than, well, existing, I want to sing, "So Long, It's Been Good to Know Ya," and nip the hemlock with my vodka. And I encourage my fellow Baby Boomers to consider same.

Each of us Boomers has a definition, however abstract and vague, of what our individual end of life should be. I have to say, too, that my generation has consumed an inordinate amount of natural, economic and social resources, like an anteater on steroids. We need, each of us, consider things, and then make a choice on how much we want to leave behind.

Boomers are creaking up the works on their children's and grandchildren's credit cards, and you know what? In getting old, we have a chance to demonstrate our authenticity and lay down a final offering to the mythical ethic of The Sixties.

It's time for us to take one for the team.

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