Does the Government Owe People a Living Standard in Retirement?

Trump’s proposed 2020 budget raises questions about changes to SS, Medicare and Medicaid that all implicitly revolve around the question:

Are changes to current benefits good public policy?

I believe that we need to answer the more fundamental questions:

Does the government owe people a living standard in retirement?

And, if yes, What standard of living?

Obviously, this is a level of public discourse America is not capable of these days.

I think it would be more to the point to ask whether American society believes that the old, sick, and infirm should be guaranteed a minimum standard of living–Social Security is pretty damn minimal. Government is only the instrument of social values and what we have been seeing in recent decades is a battle of values. Republicans tend to espouse a more or less radical individualism in which society bears little or no responsibility for the old, sick, and infirm; Democrats, in general and to varying degrees, tend to believe in the existence of a more robust social contract. So, does the government “owe” people a retirement income? That seems like a GOP way of asking the question. Do we want to be the sort of society that allows the old, the sick, and the infirm to live under bridges and beg on the street? That’s the way I’d ask the question, but then I’m a liberal Democrat.

When all those homeless old people are stinkin’ up the place, maybe the rugged individualists will change their tune.

I think the blind moralizing is killing our economy (regardless of being in the bigly and most beautiful economy ever). It’s preventing people from seeing that an extreme concentration of wealth is bad for us, regardless of whether anyone else deserves a cut of the pie. It’s not only about whether some particularly lazy person doesn’t want to work. It’s also about whether you’d like to be tripping over that lazy person’s corpse as you venture outside your gated community. There’s just no understanding about how to optimize the outcome.

As a senior, I think I can speak for many of my generation and my parents and grandparents generation a little on this topic. We don’t think the government “owes” us anything in the manner that word is being bantered around in this political atmosphere. We entered into a contract with the government way back before the young “wanters” were even born. Just like those in the military entered into a contract when they joined. We knew that we would have to work and pay into the system, we assumed that our government officials were honest people with integrity that would honor their side of the agreement. We also knew that it was our responsibility, among others, to save as much as was possible to maintain ourselves in addition to what we were “saving” in the social security system. Our mistake was in trusting the politicians, in believing that when they took their oath of office they were serving us, after all isn’t that what our taxes were paying for, their salaries and benefits for life as well as a cushy retirement of their own? We are generations that knew we would have to work, get married (for the women that was on our horizon as the “only acceptable option”) raise our children, and then get out of the way when they grew up and took over. Somewhere along the line we were betrayed, somewhere there were some who got greedy and thought they could define what was right, and they started taking over the decision makers. (what a misnomer; more like paid servants of the very wealthy special interests). Our politicians lost their independence, their integrity and their desire to serve the people of the country and instead sold their souls to the highest bidder.

In return what did we get, condemnation from those politicians for not foreseeing their greed, dishonesty and failures. The have turned a blind eye while our own savings in pensions were stollen, they have squandered any safety we may have had by taking us into wars unpaid for and give aways to the big donors so that they may live a lifestyle that many of us never even dreamed of. They in essence have been taking and taking and now want us to go quietly off into a corner and die.

The thing that I find the saddest is that these politicians are the children that we lovingly raised, that we trusted to carry on the contracts that were in place when we entered adulthood. They have little to no respect for our accomplishments, our wants, needs, or even our feelings. They now have the audacity to accuse us of “freeloading” and demanding special treatments.

No I certainly don’t think that the government owes me a standard of living, if by standard it defines, yachts, cars, vacations, and having a politician in my pocket. I do think it owes me the respect and consideration they were given when we working to build this country up. I think it owes me a government of honesty and integrity, not one that is so corrupt that it now expects that we seniors throw ourselves on the dwindling ice flows to die while they continue to take, take and drag the country further and further into the corner of everything we fought against for so many years. I worked hard for my standard of living, I paid my bills, followed the rules, and I damn well expect that the government follow the rules too and quite selling us out to the highest bidder.

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I don’t think we can answer that when the question is phrased that way. Of course you would need to know what the changes are to be in order to know whether they would be good policy. In general, though, I don’t think we ought to have any public policy be sacrosanct. Times change, conditions change, and there is nothing wrong with a “review”.

I think where we mess up on policy discussions is the lack of honesty. Politics has gone sort of Madison Avenue and we talk about what “sells”, and then we talk about the fact that it “sells well”, and then we talk about who’s up and who’s down. We don’t talk honestly about the policy.

For example, there was a public discussion in Oregon many years ago that struck me as part of the problem with our politics: Oregon ended public funding of organ transplants with the argument that the trade off between $150,000 for an organ transplant was at the cost of prenatal care for 150 mothers. What I recall from back then was the argument about, say, a liver transplant for someone in their 70s and not the best of health, versus that prenatal care - which could potentially enhance the entire lives of all of those children - and Oregon was choosing the latter.

What I also remember was the public squawking about wasn’t the life of that 72 year old grandmother WORTH IT? What did we have against Nanas anyway? Death panels!!

What Oregon was trying to do was to say that our resources are not unlimited. We cannot do everything that everyone needs to have done. We have to decide, and we have to decide HOW to decide. How do we evaluate what we can and cannot do?

I am sure you call recall George W. Bush talking about the costs of his middle east adventures? “We’ll pay whatever it takes.” THAT is not good policy. So neither is the appeals to the heart strings about how some unfortunate group isn’t going to get what it wants/needs if we don’t spend x, y and z.

The facts are that resources are not unlimited. There is the valid discussion about how we get “community resources” but no matter where we get them from, nor how much we get, ultimately, it is not unlimited. So discussions have to take place about means of prioritization. How do we spend our community resources, and equally important, how do we decide HOW we decide.

Also - you asked this question: Does the government owe people a living standard in retirement? We are the government. It is not this thing that is distinct and separate and apart from us. It is a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” and it reflects what values we as a people share.

There are LOADS of differences of opinions in how we accomplish this. We use “majority rules” most of the time - sometimes we use “super majority rules”. But that the essence of it - how do we want to organize ourselves, what rules do we want to live under, how do we want to address the needs of the community as a whole.

In politics there is always talk about how few leaders do the RIGHT thing as opposed to the politically expedient thing. But the politically expedient thing IS HOW WE DECIDE. In the example of same sex marriage, when there was sufficient public approval for codifying same gender relationships, or at least insufficient public DISapproval, the policy started to change and ultimately became the lay of the land.

Perhaps there are not many, if any, universal “right and wrongs”. Perhaps we are simply evolving.

It would be more to the point to ask how much money each individual put into these funds to determine how much they should get out of them.