L. Neil Smith's

Number 2, November, 1995

Middle Age Rage

By Robert B. Boardman

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

         The middle of something is usually defined as the halfway point between its two ends. I plan to live to a hundred and four and I just hit 52, so I guess I qualify as middle age.
         It's an awkward age: too young to feed off the inter-generational transfer payments called Medicare and Social Security, and too old to have any faith in them. My generation will probably be the last to pay into them for a lifetime, and the first not to get any benefits.
         Face it, folks: Our government is broke! We can come up with billions to support any cause deemed important by our overseers, but it's getting more and more difficult for them to set priorities, because they've promised everything to everybody. The only way they can keep those promises is to take everything from everybody.
         And that process has hit the point of diminishing returns. Nobody knows where the modern economy's taxing limit is, but I sense that we've already crossed it. To get control of our national debt, George Bush presided over the biggest tax increase in history, and then Bill Clinton presided over an even bigger one. And the debt keeps on rising. So the government keeps on borrowing. But there's a limit to our government's borrowing capacity, also, since the supply of loan capital is finite and the interest rate (the price for the rental of money) will ultimately have to go up as the national debt increases.
         Clinton has bragged that the deficit is getting smaller, and the Republicans are close to a plan to make it shrink each year until 2002. Even if it works, then what? The debt will never go down; it will only go up more slowly. And as it grows, the cost of paying interest on that debt will continue to grow.
         And so will the cost of Medicare and Social Security. These items, along with Medicaid and the interest on the national debt, consumed one trillion and sixty-six billion dollars in fiscal 1995, or 69% of the total federal outlays of one trillion, five hundred thirty-nine billion dollars. That's seven out of every ten dollars. It's also over four thousand dollars per person.
         But let's put the numbers aside now, because it's the MORALITY of the situation that enrages me. It's based on the misguided belief that if one group's need is convincing enough, it justifies stealing from another group. Every old person I've talked to says that they have a right to Social Security. ("I'm just getting back what I paid into it.") And they also say they have a right to Medicare. ("There's a lot of other things they could cut.")
         So I'm going to keep on paying until I'm too old to work and too broke to pay.
         On the other temporal side of me, there's Generation X. More of them believe in UFOs than believe they'll ever get any money out of Uncle Sam. (Probably right on both counts.) And, since we live in a representative republic, eventually the intergenerational transfer system will be abolished. I predict it will happen the same day I'm declared too old to work. Hence my rage. Meanwhile the Democrats in Washington are committing "Mediscare," telling the old folks that their attempt to rationalize these systems will put them all out in the street. All that's lacking is the hearses from the city morgue, cruising about the nursing homes with attendants crying, "Bring out your dead!" And the strategy seems to be working, judging from the Republican promises that it's not really a cut. What we need is for more of the Generation Xers to vote, but sweeping changes in society take place very slowly; that's why I will pay these taxes for a lifetime, and they won't.
         Even to a non-Libertarian (and I know more of them than I know Libertarians, simply because there are more of them), there can't be any justice in my generation, the one that has paid into these programs forever, being the one left to starve for lack of federal funds.
         The generation now retired, after all, are the ones who should have stopped the welfare state before it got started. But they didn't. That's reality. Sure, they did some heroic things, living through two world wars and the Depression. But they built the welfare state by believing lies and following liars, because it was convenient to do so. And now they want to pass the problem along to the young. At least, that's how the reigning politicians view it.
         In reality, let me ask any of you old people: If you had to choose between your comfort and the lives of your children and grandchildren, which would it be? Because that's the choice. You can't bankrupt the country, with corrupt bureaucrats and politicians getting most of our wealth in the name of charity, without jeopardizing the very lives of the people who will come after you.
         I suspect you senior citizens will fall into two camps: One camp will say, "Yes, I'll give up feeding at the public trough, secure in the knowledge that the resultant increase in the national wealth will make it possible for my descendants to take care of me, if necessary. And they will be happy to do it, because I raised them to take care of themselves and their loved ones, and not push their responsibilities off on the taxpayers.
         Besides, I always felt that my well-being was MY responsibility, so I saved up something for my retirement. (And thanks to Slick Willie, my Social Security income is being taxed away anyway.)"
         The other camp will say, "No, I don't care what happens to my children and grandchildren. Don't raise my Medicare premium, because I can't afford it. Don't take away my Social Security, because I paid for it. You owe me." (Just one more example of how government brings out the worst in all of us.) This second camp is the one the politicians and the media are playing to.
         They don't deserve to have first claim on our wealth.
         Let's stop listening to well-meaning people. Listen, rather, to the voice of middle age rage. Around the time of the Civil War, many well-meaning people were saying, "Don't free the slaves. They'll starve to death." Now the well-meaning people are saying, "Don't free the young. The old will starve to death."
         Senior citizens, my mothers and fathers, all you for whom the AARP professes to speak, if you raised us so badly that slavery is the only thing that could encourage us to keep you alive and well, then all the government programs in the world aren't going to save you.
         Or us.

Robert B. Boardman is the author of sf novels Savior of Fire, published by Blue Note Books, and The Trashers, as yet unpublished. He is currently managing director of the Nepenthe Project, a startup center in Houston for making liberty-oriented movies and videos. e-mail: RBBoardman@aol.com

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