Will you still pay me, when I’m 64? • Greg Morin
The mainstream media likes to occasionally publicize statistics demonstrating an ever-widening income/wealth gap. This is usually either in response to some left-wing talking head (Obama) mentioning it in a speech, or, it is simply a slow news day and nothing whips the masses into a frenzy like giving them the impression they are somehow being cheated out of their “fair share” of the economic pie, “yeah, let’s stick it to those evil rich people!” Yeah, grandma and grandpa are pretty evil, aren’t they? That’s the little tidbit they leave out of these numbers, although it is one that should be obvious: old people have lived longer than the rest of us, therefore they’ve had more to time to accumulate wealth and the work experience that allows them to demand higher wages. Duh. If the relative proportion of the aged in this country were constant the effect of age on relative changes in income distribution would be nill. But, the proportion of the aged is not constant, it is increasing. The “baby boomers”, the largest single age demographic in this country, are getting older. What do we get when we put those two together? We see a growing demographic that is increasingly earning and accruing more and more wealth. And how would we expect an increasing proportion of increasingly wealthy elderly to effect wealth distribution statistics? That’s right…a growing statistical disparity when people are lumped into wealth brackets that ignore age.
I’m not suggesting age is the sole contributor to changes in wealth/income disparities (increased productivity being another important factor) but it is obviously a major influence considering the overall “greying” of America see http://goo.gl/4QuU4" and compare 1990 v 2025). And it is not merely the size of the group. The financial savvy of today’s “elderly” coupled with an increasingly productive economy have led to a poverty rate among those 65 and older one-third of what it was in 1967 (11 percent down from 33 percent - http://goo.gl/UcHtA). This is half the rate for those under 35 (22 percent). Bear in mind Social Security had been paying the elderly benefits since 1937, so it apparently wasn’t all that effective if the poverty rate was still 33 percent after 30 years of operation. We as a society need to shed the idea that old equals poor and that Social Security is the only thing that stands in the way of grandma turning tricks for her next meal.
So what is the point? It is not to pick on the “age challenged”, but rather to point out that social benefits and tax policy based merely on age, race, or gender make no sense. They are inherently discriminatory insofar as such policies assume all in some demographic must be poor or disadvantaged in some way. If we must have a government run social safety net or constituency-pandering tax breaks they should be means tested at the individual level, not group level. In other words, property tax breaks for the elderly: bad, but, property tax breaks based on income, good. Social Security based on age: bad, but Social Security based on need, good (I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader as to how one should objectively define an inherently subjective concept like “need” – warning, your head may explode).
We are a nation of individuals, not groups. We owe it to ourselves to evaluate need at the individual level, not the “group” level, else every self-entitled special interest group lobby will bankrupt this country as each group jockeys to live at the expense of every other group.
Greg Morin is a member of the Libertarian Party and CEO of Seachem Laboratories located in Madison. Constructive comments are welcomed to this paper or at gregmorin.com
Printed in the July 12, 2012 edition