Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Impending Generation War

If you thought America’s culture wars, foreign policy debates and presidential campaigns generated heated rhetoric, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The looming conflict between the generations over entitlements for the graying population could shape up as the most bruising domestic issue since the Civil Rights movement.

Indeed the generation gap – or, rather, the gap between the entitlements we think we deserve and those we can afford -- could soon supplant race, class and gender as the most divisive force in American politics. Won’t that be fun?

The issue is simple: Our government spends much more money than it collects. The Bush administration brought us half trillion-dollar deficits. The Obama administration is giving us our first trillion-dollar deficit. Meanwhile, we still have the massive entitlements obligations of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to deal with – obligations that would run up the federal deficit to $4 trillion to $5 trillion a year in a $14.5 billion-a-year economy if Uncle Sam used Generally Accepted Accounting Principles like the private sector does.

For decades, the issue of deficit spending and unfunded entitlements seemed worrisome but remote. Disaster seemed so far away. Now, we can see it: The first Boomers are retiring, and the generation that would “never grow old” – and happens to be almost twice as large as the once that precedes it – soon will be drawing retirement benefits rather than paying payroll taxes. Add to that the worst recession since 1981. Seemingly overnight, everyone’s sensibilities have been sharpened to the mess we’ve made for ourselves.

At the Boomer Project, we track media articles and blog chatter, and we’ve seen a marked uptick in the number of commentators who put our current splurge of deficit spending in the context of a looming demographic and fiscal disaster. Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson gloomily prognosticated that the Age of Obama could become the era in which generational conflict, or even “generational war,” could break out.

Read the rest of the column. (It gets more up-beat than what you see here!)

(Image credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.)

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