Friday, March 25, 2011

TIME GOES BY | The War on Elders (and Everybody Else) – Part 1 of ?

by Ronni Bennett

It's been an exhausting few weeks: the earthquake in Japan, a new U.S. military venture in Libya, the ongoing demonstrations and fighting in almost every middle eastern country, the ominous silence from Israel, the crucial protests in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and several other states and the stepped-up budget attacks from government and corporate elites on Social Security and Medicare. Have I left out anything big?

President Obama has decamped to Latin America and Congress is in recess so maybe they can't do too much damage for awhile. It's a good time to step back and survey the big picture.

Since its inception about eight years ago, this blog has been concerned with the lives of elder issues large and small. I try to have some fun with it while lobbying for better treatment of old people, passing on practical information, addressing the difficult issues of illness and mortality and above all, adhering to Time Goes By's bedrock principle: contrary to what western culture generally tells us, there is nothing wrong with being old.

When, in these pages, I have indulged my second passion – politics – I have sometimes felt guilty about straying from the blog's purpose. Now I have come to see that in our politics, everyone of every age is at risk.

We are not supposed to say so (“all men are created equal” and blah, blah, blah) but I am sure you have noticed that there is a class war going on in the United States. Actually, it is global.

Here, it started the moment the New Deal was in place. That era's oligarchy had lost their battle against President Roosevelt's progressive legislation, but by steady increments since then, they have just about won the war now.

Over the years, the elites have used many tactics and strategies to steal all the wealth of the nation. One is the classic, divide and conquer. Let's look at that as it is applied to a crucial elder issue: Social Security.

I noticed it for the umpteenth time yesterday in an Op-Ed in The New York Times by a 24-year-old complaining about the lack of jobs and opportunity for his age group of recent graduates [emphasis is mine]:
”I fear that the young will bear the brunt of the pain:” he wrote, “taxes on workers will be raised and spending on education will be cut while mortgage subsidies and entitlements for the elderly are untouchable.
You and I know, of course, that “untouchable” no longer holds, but so deeply held is this belief among the young (old people benefit to the detriment of youth) that in the context of the young man's entire essay, his elder smackdown hardly stands out.

Why do the young believe this? Because it has been an argument repeated by the right for several decades in their ongoing offensive against Social Security and Medicare – an unrelenting propaganda machine pounding out the notion of “greedy geezers.”

That doesn't absolve a 24-year-old from doing his homework to find out how Social Security actually works but in his defense, colleges have dumbed down their courses for the past two generations and grade inflation has been flagrant for as long. So we cannot expect much critical thinking from our expensively “educated” youth.

The result, however, is an army of young people out to cut grandma's and grandpa's “entitlements” at the behest of an obscenely wealthy elite that is no more interested in the well-being of the young than they are in the current crop of “greedy geezers.”

What the young Op-Ed writer and his cohorts do not realize is that in blaming elders (instead of the wealthy elite) for their economic predicament, they deeply endanger their own futures.

How can it be otherwise? Salaries have been stagnant for more than a decade and there is no reason to believe that will change. Private pensions have been disappearing for even longer.

Any 401(k)s and IRAs that have recovered their value from the 2008 crash will be decimated again in the next crashes – certain to happen once or twice or more again over the next 40 years until the time that young man is ready to retire.

And who is to say he can even contribute to those programs. With low, flat salaries, huge college loans to repay, children to educate at astronomical tuitions, food and energy prices that are sure to rise dramatically in coming years, not to mention the cost of health care that unless we enact Medicare for All (doubtful), will be – already is - beyond the financial reach of most people.

So cuts or elimination of our “entitlements,” which many young people are convinced are necessary, will – if successful - doom their generations to an even more impoverished old age than so many of our own live with now.

The war on elders is also a war on youth - on everybody. More about all this tomorrow.

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