Monday, March 18, 2013

Is America the world's retirement home?

The Washington Post has an op-ed by Robert J. Samuelson, “America: the retirement home”, with s telling subtitle, “An aging nation keeps us from an honest budget debate”, on p. A17 of the paper Monday, March 18, 2013.
This is not “my old Kentucky home”.  It’s not about the stereotypes of senior living. It’s about priorities.
The link for his article is here.
Samuelson argues that entitlements are keeping us away from other priorities to help the young and working, “whose turn it is”.  And they may be goading us into undercutting defense, which suddenly gets attention because of North Korea’s testy provocations.
He argues that we need a new “social compact” (or social contract). 
It’s true that most other western democracies have pretty comprehensive social insurance for both health care and old age, but most of them are becoming even more challenged by demographics – longer life spans and fewer children – than we are.  The currently popular model seems unsustainable.
A new social compact would have to establish just how much responsibility the public sector takes for the elderly, and draw lines around how far life-extending treatment goes.  Should there be upper age limits or behavioral considerations for some procedures like coronary bypass surgery?
It would also have to consider filial responsibility or filial piety, as discussed in yesterday’s posting (about a new Wikipedia article on the subject).  This could have a profound effect on how we see marriage.
But a social compact also needs to contemplate how people take care “of themselves”.  I still think that a gradual shift to privately owned but regulated retirement accounts, to partly replace Social Security, is still in order.   

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