Frank Bruni says that we oldsters have left a mess for millennials to clean up. Fair enough. But guess what? It's nobody's fault in particular -- everyone shares the blame equally!
On the environment, for instance:
In [the millennials'] lifetimes the Atlantic will possibly swallow Miami Beach (I foresee a "Golden Girls" sequel with dinghies and life preservers) and the footwear for Anchorage in February may be flip-flops. At least everyone will be saving on heating bills.Yeah, Frank? Really? Earth is in the balance, as Al Gore used to say? Well, as Bob Somerby used to say, you were "probably the most Bush-friendly reporter on the 2000 campaign trail," fond of mocking Al Gore for being a pompous egghead, while delighting in the personal style of the backslapping, nickname-dispensing Bush. Maybe if there'd been slightly less tilted coverage in that election from the "liberal media," the guy who wrote Earth in the Balance would have become president in 2001, and the planet might not be such a mess.
The Obama administration did unveil a bold climate-change measure last week. Or, rather, it signaled its intent to act: We'll have to wait and see whether Congress figures out a way to foil the president or the courts gum things up. The plan as it stands would cut carbon pollution from American power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
But that may be too little, too late, according to an assessment last year by John Podesta, now a counselor to President Obama, in an interview with Harper's Magazine before he joined the White House staff in late 2013.
In the interview, excerpts from which were released only last week, Podesta apparently reviewed what had been proposed and actually done in terms of carbon emissions and the like.
"But 50 years from now, is that going to seem like enough?" he said. "I think the answer to that is going to be no." And that's chilling, given the stakes. As the title of a book by Al Gore observed, the earth itself is in the balance.
Bruni goes on to the main point of his column -- that we're betraying millennials by spending so much money on Medicare and Social Security. For this he calls on ... former senator Bob Kerrey:
"If you're going along with the status quo, it should be a crime to say that you care about our children and grandchildren, because you're not putting your money where your mouth is," Bob Kerrey, a Democrat who governed Nebraska for four years and represented that state in the Senate for another 12, told me recently.First of all, maybe "there's too little money for that even now" because in recent years, thanks to the Bush tax cuts, tax revenues as a percentage of GDP have been lower than they've been since the 1950s. Corporate taxes, in particular, have been declining for years as a percentage of GDP.
This subject haunts him more and more. "If we're trying to figure out how to advance the next generation's future, we need to be spending more on the next generation, and we're spending it on yesterday's generation," said Kerrey, 70. "I am not the future. My 12-year-old son is. But if you look at the spending, you'd think I'm the future."
Kerrey is referring mostly to Social Security and Medicare, which, along with Medicaid, are the so-called entitlements that claim a larger and larger share of the federal budget.
He's fixated on those sorts of numbers: According to the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid totaled 6.7 percent of the country's gross domestic product in 1990. By 2010, they were 10 percent. And by 2038, such spending may represent 14.3 percent. It's hard to see how that leaves much money for discretionary spending on infrastructure, on education, on research, on a range of investments that safeguard or improve the America that today’s young people will inherit.
And there's too little money for that even now....
But let's get back to that 2000 election. Bruni's nickname-giving pal sneered at Gore for wanting to put entitlement money in a "lockbox" precisely to pay for this completely predictable baby-boom explosion in entitlement obligations. That "lockbox" talk was hilariously geeky, wasn't it?
And who is Bob Kerrey to talk about this? Well, when he ran for Senate in Nebraska in 2012, he listed assets of between $5 million and $18 million, largely gained from positions on corporate boards. Until recently he was a managing director at Allen and Co., a boutique investment bank. He now works for a D.C. lobbying firm. Maybe he doesn't need Social Security and Medicare, but most seniors do.
The argument that entitlement spending on the elderly is generational theft -- regularly made by David Brooks as well -- has always annoyed me. It's not just that seniors have paid into the system and therefore are owed what they were promised. It's also that elderly people tend to have children and grandchildren. If this money is withheld, who's going to make up the difference? That's obvious: the people who already fill in the gaps now when the elderly are in need, namely their descendants. Care for the truly sick elderly is punishingly expensive; if fiftysomethings have to pay more of it out of pocket for their octogenarian parents, they're going to have that much less left over for their kids. How is that not obvious?
And near the end of the column, we get this from Bruni:
... I've noticed more bulletins and agitating from organizations like Generation Opportunity, which crunched May's employment figures to confirm a much higher rate of joblessness among Americans ages 18 to 29 than among the whole population.That would be a group described in Bruni's own paper as "a Koch-financed group focusing on young voters," started with $5 million of Koch brothers seed money, according to Politico. Generation Opportunity is the group that brought you Creepy Uncle Sam:
Does Bruni mention any of this? Of course not. Do you even have to ask?