December 10, 2011


I read somewhere recently that 10,000 Americans (or at least 10,000 people holding Social Security numbers) sign up for benefits every day. This makes intuitive sense, using that "first approximation" approach favored by the serious mathematician. The Baby Boom Generation, spanning birth dates of about 18 years from 1946 to 1964, is that infamous, self-involved demographic cohort comprised of about 75 million souls. 10,000 people per day extends out to 3,650,000 per year; multiplied by 18 = ~65 million, but I doubt that the birth rate was absolutely smooth over the whole period. My guess is that babies really started popping during the Eisenhower years, when the schools became over-crowded, the demobilized military settled down to the American dream, and suburbs sprouted like mushrooms all over this once-verdant land.

Meaning, under this tentative analysis, that the fiscal problems will get worse in the years ahead, as the Boomers, in larger numbers, keep aging, determined to stay alive and vibrant in their Peter Pan way, and to retire to that life of sublime leisure to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God supposedly entitle them.

Except, of course, it's not going to turn out that way. In part exacerbated by this gimmicky payroll tax cut which the O Man has thrown out as a sop to his supposed supporters (in lieu of anything real), the Social Security fund is already running a $46 billion cash on cash deficit, 6 years ahead of schedule. Over the next ten years, the deficits will add up to $1.2 trillion; if this number rings a bell, it's because it's the same number the so-called Super Committee was seeking to cut from the federal budget over the same decade (they weren't really cuts, of course; they were reductions in the rate of increase). Yet the SuperDuper Group never even considered Social Security, since Obama & Co. decided ahead of time that none of the big drivers of the deficit could even be considered as part of the program of reduction (Social Security, Medicare-Medicaid/Defense/Interest Expense).

Dmitry Orlov said something interesting recently in his talk at Orcas, Washington (which you can find in mp3 format at, his website) about the perceptive biases of humans when faced with change. It went something like this: humans find it very difficult to imagine very different circumstances, a fundamentally changed contextual reality, so to speak, which lies in the future; yet when that new context arrives, everyone assures everyone else that they knew all along it would be like this. We can see a lot of that in the reactions of Americans to the Depression we've been in since 2007. Things have really, really changed a lot during that time period. All of our language about the future, our plans, have all been altered. We've become inured to the idea that our economy is centrally planned by a private banking cartel (the Federal Reserve), that the monopolistic control of the market by a few surviving large banks, by a few surviving large telecommunications companies (which also own the media), by a few large surviving Big Box retailers, are now the way things are. That the federal government will run $1 trillion-plus deficits each and every year (an amount absolutely unimaginable even five years ago), that bank accounts earn absolutely no return, that your house will just keep losing value year after year, are all now in the natural order of things.

Thus, when we think of something like Social Security, the same perceptual bias (this homeostasis preference) makes it difficult for the Boomers, who are diverting the headwaters of Social Security to themselves the way Los Angeles sucks the Owens Valley and the Colorado River dry, to think there might come a day when the younger generation rebels at the idea of supporting their tennis and golf activities with a brutal, off-the-top tax that this younger generation can barely afford because of the crappy economy, all while the younger ones live with the certainty that the system will die before they can draw a penny in benefits.

When I put it that way, you have to admit that the Baby Boomers, those classic narcissists, are pretty freaking stupid. Just because AARP is swollen with Boomers now, and the average age in the U.S. Senate is about 105 years, does not mean that these conditions will prevail indefinitely. The younger generation of workers and job seekers (more of the latter than the former these days), knowing the whole dumb system is headed for extinction, are going to get rid of Social Security as soon as their voting bloc comes into dominance.

It's just the way it is. Socialism doesn't work because human beings are fundamentally selfish assholes (I'm kidding, kids - you're just doing what I would do - although see below for the meaning of this comparison). All psychological studies support this view. Humans have no sympathy for humans (or any other life form) at a distance, unless the situation is personalized. For example, I blew twenty bucks at breakfast this morning. My guess is that this is enough dough to furnish a basic staple to a West African family for about a month. So why didn't I just eat a couple of eggs at home and mail a check for twenty bucks to a relief organization? Because I'm fundamentally a selfish asshole interested in "self actualization" and "living the good life." A kind of "duh" moment there.

The only way I can think to change the Social Security dynamic, therefore, is to change its impersonality. We're at the point where only three workers support each beneficiary. I've mentioned before that I'm old enough for Social Security but I just keep on working, like the fool I've always been. That means that me and two other guys are supporting someone, somewhere, in this great land of video-viewers. We're a wage-slave team, me and these two guys. It's possible that the person I'm supporting is younger than I am. What I'm proposing is that I be given a name, and a picture, and maybe a letter once in a while from My Beneficiary, thanking me for continuing to harden my arteries and blow out my liver for his sake.

That's what I would like to call the new program, My Beneficiary, modeled on some of those adopt-a-child deals you can get in on. Suppose my guy is a retired fellow living in Omaha, Nebraska. Let's say his name is Earl Jones (that's a good name for a retired guy - Earl). Earl used to work in a farm equipment store, till he got sick of it and quit at age 62, which is pretty easy to do in Nebraska, what with the the houses costing a couple of hundred bucks now. Earl's drawing about $900 a month now, him and the little lady, who's also on the dole (but she's not my adoptee - some other team has that honor).

See the beauty of this? I'm not paying taxes into an amorphous, faceless bureaucracy. I'm supporting Earl Jones, who just wants to rest his old weary bones amid the corn fields of Nebraska, maybe pitch some horse shoes or go bowling on the weekend (or any day of the week, thanks to me and My Team). Now I have a mission, a purpose, for my work. It's to keep Earl in Geritol, Budweiser and Viagra. I think I could happily work for years more, knowing now that there is a Higher Calling behind that damn form SE. Earl Jones: My Cause. And then, of course, it's also good karma. One of these days I will myself be up for adoption, when we're probably down to two workers per freeloader.

So a big shout-out to Gens X & Y: I'm available. Adopt me now and avoid the Christmas rush.

1 comment:

  1. Machipongo John11:05 AM

    But, didn't Earl pay into the Social Security trust fund all the time he was chopping cotton or whatever? So isn't he entitled to the benefits generated by that trust fund? Earl isn't a freeloader living off the work of three workers, he's just somebody who got screwed out of his life savings by the pols who looted the Social Security trust fund.