WASHINGTON -- American politics may have had stupider, more undignified moments than this. It is impossible to imagine Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy or Ronald Reagan doing anything like John Kerry leading a crowd chanting ``Send Bush to Mars!'' Has any candidate ever gone further on anything dumber than John Edwards' three-hanky tear-jerker speech about a father losing a job? Most of the approximately 1 million small businesses started each year fail -- send for more hankies -- within a decade, so it is unsurprising that 10 percent of manufacturing jobs, and an even higher percentage of service jobs, are normally eliminated every year.
All this was a feast of reason compared to the Kerry and Edwards responses -- approximately, ``Shut up!'' -- to Alan Greenspan's restatement of this problem: There is a mismatch between the Social Security and Medicare promises we have made to ourselves -- calls on the nation's future economic product -- and the ability of the economy to fund those promises when the 77 million baby boomers retire.
According to Laurence J. Kotlikoff of Boston University, the present value of the gap between promised outlays and projected revenues is $51 trillion -- more than four times the nation's annual GDP. Today the household wealth of Americans -- the value of their houses, 401(k)s, cars, refrigerators, toasters, socks, everything -- is about $42 trillion. In impeccable Greenspan-speak, the government's truth-teller said ``significant structural adjustments'' will be necessary.
This much is widely understood: Raising the retirement age and some other benefit reductions (including taking the exaggeration of inflation out of cost-of-living computations) will be necessary because tax increases to fund current benefit schedules would cripple the economy.
It is axiomatic -- meaning, true outside of Washington -- that everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. Here are some facts, many of them gleaned from a new book from the MIT press, ``The Coming Generational Storm'' by Kotlikoff and Scott Burns of The Dallas Morning News.
By 2030, the boomers, who begin retiring in 2008, will have made America's population older than Florida's is today. America's population will have increased perhaps as much as 18 percent, its retirees 100 percent. Already the fastest rate of growth of any age cohort is of Americans over 85.
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