Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

There's the bad guy! Shoot the guy next to him!

David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States (who runs the GAO, a research service of the Congress), recently told an audience in Chicago that "Unless we reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid . . . by 2040 our government could be doing little more than sending out Social Security checks and paying interest on our massive national debt." As you may recall, a certain individual with a prominent job in Washington spent a good deal of time after the 2004 election saying the same thing, and insisting that Social Security be phased out because we can't afford it.

It's true that we do have a big bill coming due for federal entitlement programs. Here is Mr. Walker's own graph depicting the problem. (Click the thumbnail for the full sized image.)

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Do you see what I see? Because it appears that nobody else sees the same thing. Does Social Security appear to be the problem here? Does it look like the work force of the future won't be able to generate enough income to pay social security benefits to their parents and grandparents? If my eyeballs are screwed in straight, it looks as though, in 2040, social security as a percentage GDP will be just slightly above where it is now, and declining. So why are we having all this panicked discussion of social security?

On the other hand, I can spot a teeny weeny little problem there. Do you see it too? I hope so, because nobody else does, apparently. So, what is to be done? I have some thoughts, obviously, but first let's start talking about the real problem for a change.

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