Friday, August 17, 2012

Mixed blessings...

It's been fascinating to watch, over the course of the past week, as the Democrats have leaped on the Ryan selection as dooming Medicare, only to have the attack boomerang. The Republican ticket is talking Medicare, but not responsively, not defensively; they're using Medicare as an attack against the President.

 Paul Ryan's campaigning on Medicare in Florida today, with his mom.

“What he probably did not mention yesterday is that when he passed his signature health care achievement Obamacare he raided 716 billion dollars from Medicare to pay for Obamacare,” Ryan said at Walsh University. “This will lead to fewer services for seniors. President Obama’s campaign calls this an achievement. You think raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare? Neither do I.”
He added that the Romney ticket will “protect and strengthen Medicare, leave it intact for our current seniors and save it for the next generation.”

And there's a lot of material there for them to use in attacking the Obama administration on the Medicare front.
Countdown To Bankruptcy
So, if this is an issue that helps Romney beat Obama, well, obviously, I'm all in favor of that.

But. I dislike - strongly - the raising of Medicare to sacred cow. It has been for the Democrats since it was first passed, but to have the Republicans join them in according it that status is disconcerting.  I'm not saying that it should be eliminated today - it can't be - but it's bad public policy and we should be working for a way to move away from it.  As I've written before (about Social Security - it all goes for Medicare, too):
Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. It is utterly and completely unsustainable without major modifications. (Medicare is the same, but I'm just going to address Social Security right now.) It is a Ponzi scheme because, contrary to the way that government officials like to talk about it, it's not a savings plan, it's not an investment plan, it's not a retirement account. It's a tax, a direct transfer from working Americans to retired Americans. And the ratio of workers to retirees has fallen significantly since the law went into effect, and continues to fall. Where each retiree was supported by about 16 workers in 1950, it's now down to about three and headed to about two as the baby boomers retire1. And there is no "trust fund." The money comes in to the treasury, the money goes out of the treasury.

So it can't be sustained. The problem is, it can't be eliminated, either. I think it's a bad plan, I think it's bad public policy, bad economics, and would have fought against it if I were around when it was proposed, but since it's now been in effect for 70 years, it cannot just be eliminated. The fact is, the government has made a commitment to those who are retired, and those nearing retirement age, to provide this program, and the government is morally obligated to follow through. Those people have lived their lives under the assumption that that commitment was real. They've paid their Social Security taxes, on the belief that, when it was their turn, funds would be provided for them, too. So you can't just cut it. Unfortunately.
And, to be fair to Ryan, he clearly recognizes that.  His plan takes the right approach - sustain the program for those who are currently, or soon to be dependent on it, while providing superior alternatives to wean society as a whole off of it.  Current and near-term future taxpayers are screwed by this approach, of course, but they're screwed anyway.  We need to fix the problems.

Chesterton was right...
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
- G. K. Chesterton

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