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Something's Got to Give

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

This has been the "Summer of the Senior" in America. 

While the health care debate has raged, senior citizens have been front and center at town hall events, challenging their representatives to explain how Obamacare will affect Medicare and pressing them to shoot straight about whether a "public option" will result in health care rationing or "comparative effectiveness" policies (what Sarah Palin has termed "death panels").

In the midst of the turmoil, America's seniors learned this week that, for the first time ever, they will not be receiving a cost-of-living adjustment to their monthly Social Security benefit.  The reason for this is that the Social Security Administration bases its cost of living adjustments on inflation, and inflation has been negative this year.  Nevertheless, many senior citizens are becoming anxious on news of a cut in their benefits.  That anxiety is only a pale foreshadowing of what is yet to come.

According to the latest projections, Social Security will begin paying out more money than it collects in 2016 and will become totally insolvent in 2037.  Medicare is estimated to go belly up in 2017?two years earlier than previously projected.

The bottom line: America's two largest entitlement programs?programs upon which millions of seniors rely for food, shelter, and medical care?are severely broken, and something's got to give.  Without true reform or drastic action that will likely involve some combination of tax hikes and benefit cuts, America's seniors and rising seniors (the first of America's 77 million baby boomers turned 62 in 2008) are facing a grim retirement scenario.  

Most people agree that government has an obligation to provide some sort of social safety net for America's elderly citizens.  And most will also agree that something ought to be done to save these programs in one form or another.  People differ sharply, however, over how to skin the cat.

One thing is sure, however: The U.S. Government's track record in managing Social Security and Medicare does not inspire confidence.  Our elected officials have squandered our retirement benefits by raiding funds that should have been set aside and saved for their intended purpose, and these same representatives have failed to implement responsible reforms in anticipation of the coming fiscal crisis.  One can only wonder how Congress and the President have the audacity to suggest that the government now take on the responsibility of managing health care for the entire population when they can't even manage programs designed to care for those over 65. 

The American people must decide what role they want the government to play in their lives.  Have we come to the point that we now want to be a cradle to grave nanny state?  If so, let's not kid ourselves. Government "entitlements" come at a high price.  You don't get something for nothing.  More entitlements mean higher taxes, bigger government, and less freedom.  If individuals refuse to exercise the responsibility and discipline necessary to provide for retirement security and adequate health care coverage, rest assured, government bureaucrats will be more than happy to step in and do it for them.  But we need to be prepared to forfeit a significant chunk of our money and our liberty to Uncle Sam.

On the other hand, if we decide (as we used to believe) that competition and free market mechanisms are the most effective ways of allocating resources and meeting people's needs, then now is the time to explore alternatives to the federal dole. 

In spite of the fact that our payroll taxes earn an average return of only about 2% compared to the average return of 5.5% on a well-diversified investment portfolio, efforts to incorporate an option for personally-directed retirement savings accounts have gone nowhere due to an overblown fear of stock market volatility.  That's true even when we take into account present market conditions.  Believe it or not, even during the 20-year period that encompassed the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, investment returns still beat out Social Security, averaging 3% after inflation.  Nevertheless, our government would have the American people believe that they are incapable of coping with the risks associated with investing for themselves.  They would have us believe that we're all better off just trusting the government to manage our futures for us.

Well, the government has taken that trust?just as it has taken our hard-earned tax dollars?and driven it into the ground, along with our future and the future of our grandchildren. 

Instead of blindly following America's Pied Piper into a maelstrom of insolvency, mismanagement, and corruption, the time has come for us to take a chance on ourselves again.  Ask anyone who has ever saved up to buy a car or a home or to fund their child's education?without taking out a loan?and they will tell you that taking ownership over one's own life and future yields returns that are far more valuable than any entitlement check from the government. 

This Administration and its allies in Congress have made clear the direction they want to take the American economy and way of life, and they are pushing full-steam ahead to see that their big-government visions are realized.  If the American people don't wake up?and soon?the opportunity to reclaim the future of this nation may pass us by for good.

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