The U.S. Taxpayer may have to bailout American Airlines’ Union Pension Plan

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 4th, 2011

Week in Review

We simply can’t afford pension plans anymore.  Defined benefit plans need to go the way of the dinosaurs and fast.  Most retirement plans have already gone to employee 401(k) plans.  Where the employer pays the employee and forgets about him.  Or her.  Only unions and the public sector cling to these golden parachutes.  Because they know in the end they can get the taxpayer to pay for them when their greed gets the better of them (see US may have to foot American Airlines’ pension bill by NEWSCORE posted 12/1/2011 on the New York Post).

US firms or taxpayers may be on the hook to pay for American Airlines’ massive pension bill, if the bankrupt carrier chooses to drop its pension plans as part of restructuring efforts, the Financial Times reported Thursday.

Joshua Gotbaum, director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), told the FT that taking on American’s pension plans would worsen the insurer’s deficit and might trigger higher premiums for the companies that finance it.

The PBGC is funded by US firms that offer defined benefit pension plans. The agency insures about 27,600 single employer plans and 1,500 multi-employer plans, guaranteeing defined pension plans for about 44 million US workers…

PBGC has already requested permission from Congress to raise the premium it charges US corporations by $16 billion over 10 years.

America can’t afford a privileged class any longer.  The declining birth rate put an end to that a long time ago.  For pyramid schemes don’t work when the top is wider than the base.

We need to transition from defined benefit to defined contribution.  No more pensions.  People must save for their own retirement with a 401(k), IRA, annuity, etc.  And that goes for Social Security, too.  Not now.  But some future generation will have to pay for their own retirement.  Because sometime in the future Social Security just won’t be there anymore.  Not with a declining birth rate.  And unless you want to establish strict Catholicism as the state religion (no birth control or abortion), that birthrate isn’t going to change.  So that leaves only one option.  No more pensions.  Or privileged classes.

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LESSONS LEARNED #81: “Gross pay is a myth.” – Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 1st, 2011

We Earn More than our Fathers but Can’t Buy as much as They Did

A paycheck just doesn’t seem like it goes as far as it used to.  And there’s a reason why it seems like that.  Because it really is like that.  Our paychecks can’t buy as much as they used to.  Not as much as our father’s paychecks.  And our father’s generation raised bigger families.  So why is that?  How can we earn more than our fathers.  But can’t buy as much as they did?

Two reasons.  Taxes.  And inflation.  One took our money away.  The other made what money we had worth less.

Big taxes came with Big Government.  Government went through some major spurts of growth.  The first being under Woodrow Wilson in the 1910s.  Then the New Deal era of FDR.  In the 1930s and into the 1940s (he was president for a very long time).  Followed by the Great Society era of LBJ.  In the 1960s.

During the 1950s a Gap began to Grow between Gross Pay and Net Pay

Abraham Lincoln gave us a federal income tax.  He did it to pay for the Civil War.  After it served its purpose, government repealed it.  Then Wilson brought it back.  And it was back to stay.

Then FDR gave us Social Security.  And a new payroll tax to pay for it.  Among other government programs.  Then LBJ gave us Medicare.  And a new payroll tax to pay for it.  Among other government programs.  This was a lot of new federal spending.  Paid for with a lot more federal taxes.

These taxes added up.  Especially for a young family starting out.  During the 1950s, a gap began to grow between gross pay and net pay.  And continued to grow through the 1960s.  Payroll taxes were growing.  And eating into our earnings.  There were federal, state and city income taxes (in some cities).  Social Security and Medicare.  Starting slowly.  Then taking off during the Seventies.  To pay for all those new government programs.

The Trend has been Less Money in the Working Man’s Pocket because of Higher Taxes

Let’s take a look at one city.  Detroit.  The Motor City.  Once the veritable capital of the industrial world.  Where a working man could once earn enough to raise a family of ten.  And many did.  They can’t do that anymore.  Not without a second income.

Let’s crunch some numbers.  And graph them.  Let’s look at gross pay and net pay from 1920 to 2010.  The following chart shows these results.  All dollars are constant 2010 dollars.  We started with a gross pay of $36,840 (see Center of Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s 2010 annual report, page 26) in 2010.  This represents a young family starting out.  At the beginning of both family.  And career.  Then we calculated this amount going back to 1920 in ten year intervals in 2010 dollars.  We then calculated annual amounts for income taxes (federal, state and city).  And Social Security and Medicare taxes (employee portion only).  We then graphed gross pay, payroll taxes and net pay (gross pay less payroll taxes).

This chart shows a general trend.  We did not factor in tax exemptions or credits.  Nor did we look at property taxes or the myriad of excise taxes consumers pay.  Some of these will put more money into a consumer’s pocket.  Some will take more out.  So even though the following trend analysis is not exact, it should be close enough.  The trends should fairly represent the end affect on the average working man.  Less money in his pocket over time.

(Sources: federal income taxes, state income taxes, city income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes)

Payroll Taxes really bit into Earnings after 1970

Payroll taxes kick in after 1940.  And they rise steadily until (about) 1970.  Note that net pay increases at a slower rate than gross pay.  In other words, paychecks were ‘shrinking’ during this time.  As pay increased workers kept less and less of the amount they earned.

This period included Social Security.  In 1940 the employee paid 1% of his earnings up to $3,000.  In 1950 he paid 1.5% of his earnings up to $3,000.  In 1960 he paid 3% of his earnings up to $4,800.  In merely 30 years the tax rate increased 200%.  While the amount of your wages subject to this tax increased 60%.  And this was during the period of ‘moderate’ growth.

After 1970 all of the graphs bend up steeply.  From 1970 to 2010, the Social Security tax rate went from 3% to 6.2%.  This is an increase of 106.67%.  The amount of your wages subject to this tax went from $4,800 to $106,800.  This is an increase of 2,125%.

This is but one example.  Other taxes increased, too.  Obviously.  For payroll taxes really bit into earnings during this period of extraordinary tax growth.  So much so that net pay grew at even a lesser rate (than gross pay) than it did in the previous 30 years.  Opening up the gap between gross pay and net pay even larger throughout this period.

Gross Pay may have stayed Ahead of Inflation, but Net Pay Hasn’t

But there is something else.  Employers weren’t just overly generous after 1970.  Something else happened to push gross earnings up at that rate.  The Nixon Shock.  When President Nixon took us off the ‘gold standard’.  And ignited inflation.

We can see this clearly if we add the Consumer Price Index to this chart.  Which we do here.

 

 (Sources: federal income taxes, state income taxes, city income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, CPI)

Gross pay shot up to stay ahead of inflation.  In fact, the growth rate of gross pay has kept ahead of the growth rate in the CPI.  Net pay, on the other hand, hasn’t.  The net pay graph is not as steep as the CPI graph.

So payroll taxes are increasing.  As are prices.  Which is a double hit on real earnings.  We may have never earned more, but we’re keeping less and less of what we earn.  And what we get to keep can’t buy as much as it once did.

Higher Taxes and Higher Prices have Shrunk Real Earnings

So paychecks have been shrinking.  Thanks to the increase in payroll taxes.  And prices have been rising at a faster rate than our net pay.  Which answers the question.  Why do we earn more than our fathers and yet we can’t buy as much as they did?  Because of growing prices.  And shrinking real earnings.

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LESSONS LEARNED #58: “Presidents with aggressive domestic agendas tend to have inept and naïve foreign policy.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 24th, 2011

Social Security:  A Fiscal Disaster just Waiting to Happen

FDR’s New Deal programs were an abject failure.  Nothing he tried ended the Great Depression.  Proof positive that Keynesian Economics doesn’t work.  But this Britain infatuated the world.  Many still cling to the teachings of Keynes.  Because he empowered Big Government.  And people in government love that.  But government is pretty inefficient.  And not very good at doing things.  Take Social Security, for example. 

It started as a payroll tax of 1%.  They argued it was a paltry price to pay to help the disabled and retired.  Of course, the actuaries never saw birth control and abortion coming.  So as the population aged, the birthrate declined.  With the boomers starting to retire, the great pyramid inverted.  More people are collecting than paying in.  Today the tax rate is 6.2%.  That’s 6.2 times the FDR rate.  Which is an increase of 520%.  The federal government has increased the rate 20 times to save the program from bankruptcy.  And, guess what?  It’s STILL going bankrupt.  It’s one fifth of the federal budget.  And it keeps getting bigger.  And it’s such a political third-rail that no one will touch it.  Taxpayers will have to pay so much in taxes that they will have to live a very austere life to pay for people they don’t even know who are collecting far more than they ever paid in.  Because, according to the actuaries, people were just living too long.  That’s another thing they never saw coming. 

In 1937, the average lifespan was 60 years.  The retirement age was 65.  So, in other words, the average social security beneficiary would be dead for approximately 5 years before they were eligible to collect Social Security.  Now that’s how you keep a program solvent.  Make sure that most of the people paying into it die before they have a chance to receive benefits.  Today the average lifespan is about 78 years.  The retirement age is 67.  So the average retiree will collect benefits for approximately 11 years BEFORE he or she dies.  The actuaries NEVER envisioned this.  Damn the American health care system and their miracle drugs.  We’ve never lived longer.  Or burdened the government more.

FDR was a domestic policy disaster.  He ruined this country.  Any objective analyst would agree.  But we still love him for getting us through the dark years of World War II.  Of course, much of the world doesn’t for his gift of the Cold War to these oppressed people.

FDR loved Joe Stalin, Joe Stalin walked all over FDR

In the 1930s, there was some serious government tinkering going on with economies.  FDR in the USA.  Hitler in Germany.  Mussolini in Italy.  And Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union.  FDR was on the same page, especially with Mussolini and his beloved Joseph Stalin.  He loved these guys.  Until they went rogue.  FDR had no problem hating Germany.  He was never a fan of the country.  But when Germany and the Soviet Union entered into a nonaggression pact to divide and conquer Poland, thus launching World War II, it broke his heart.  He and all his New Dealers were devastated.  Uncle Joe was the model they wanted to copy.  They loved this man.  And what he was doing in the Soviet Union.  Acting bold without a pesky Congress hindering him.  They loved him so much that they didn’t try all that hard to hunt down the Soviet spies within the FDR administration.  And there were plenty of them to hunt down.

But then God answered FDR’s prayers.  Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive invasion of the Soviet Union.  This part of the war became hell on earth.  The Eastern Front.  There cruelty knew no bounds.  Scorched earth policies.  And genocide.  Hitler’s SS did most of these acts of barbarism.  And the dreaded Einsatzgruppen took systematic murder to new heights.  The Eastern Front saw the worst cruelty of man.  But there was a bright spot.  For FDR.  He could welcome Uncle Joe back into the fold.  And did. 

Roosevelt was a master diplomat.  He could charm the pants off of anyone.  He had a gift.  And it filled him with great pomposity and reckless arrogance.  People warned him about Stalin.  And Soviet Communism.  But FDR poo pooed them.  He said he could talk to Uncle Joe.  Reason with him.  Give a lot and ask for nothing.  And he did.  FDR thought Stalin would then ask for nothing more and work with him in establishing world peace.  Just like a typical progressive/liberal.  And how did that work out?  Not only did the Red Army NOT pull out of occupied countries, they tried to occupy more.  Soviet Communism took Eastern Europe, tried to take Turkey and Greece and pushed into Iran.  We pushed some of these pushes back.  But the Cold War was on.  FDR had given so much that the Soviets had control over huge populations, condemning them to the misery of life behind the Iron Curtain.  And suffer they would for 44 long years.

Despite the fiscal carnage and world misery FDR left in his wake, he is still loved and adored by those on the Left.  People as pompous, arrogant and naïve as he.  Who still want to do things the Roosevelt way.  Despite the unmitigated disaster the FDR way turned out to be. 

Mismanaging Medicare/Medicaid and the Vietnam War

We can best describe LBJ‘s Great Society as doubling down on FDR’s New Deal.  And it was as big a disaster as the New Deal was.  LBJ was going to end poverty and racial injustice.  And pour federal money into education to make it better.  He failed.  Based on the Left’s attacks on the Right, we’re still beset by poverty and racial injustice.  (Even though we elected a black president.  Go figure.)  And that the teacher unions are constantly going on strike to get more money.  For the kids, of course.  And if we still have these problems it can only mean one thing.  The Great Society failed.

Included in the Great Society were Medicare and Medicaid.  Health insurance for the elderly and the poor, respectfully.  Currently, this is another 1/5 of the total federal budget.  And it has the same problems as Social Security has.  A declining birthrate and a growing elderly population that is living longer.  The actuaries crunched their numbers before the explosion of birth control and abortion.  So their projections are just as bad as FDR’s were.  The tax rate went from 0.35% to 1.45%, and increase of 314%.  Unlike Social Security, the death rate never ran in the black for Medicare/Medicaid.  From the get-go people were living 3 years beyond the average retirement age, consuming health care benefits.  Now the average American is living 11 years into retirement.  And a lot of them aren’t doing that by a healthy diet and exercise.  They’re doing it by consuming vast amounts of health care benefits.   LBJ took the problems of the New Deal and multiplied them by ten.  The cumulative effect of these two programs crashed the economy into stagflation and misery in the 1970s.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, he pushed the nation close to civil war by his mismanagement of the Vietnam War.

JFK got us into Vietnam.  But Johnson expanded our involvement.  And tried to manage it from Washington.  With the Whiz Kids left over from JFK.  A bunch of poindexters who tried to run a war by looking at numbers in columns.  Body counts.  And restrictions on the rules of engagement.  It was a horrible way to run a war.  It just prolonged it.  Created more American casualties.  And empowered our enemy.  Can’t bomb the North.  Can’t bomb their supply routes (i.e., the Ho Chi Minh Trail).  We did everything we could to help the enemy by giving them safe sanctuaries up the ying-yang.  And when we had a chance to deliver a knockout punch after the failed Tet Offensive, we did NOTHING.  Partly because Walter Cronkite said the war was lost.  Partly because of the hippies protesting on our college campuses.  And, of course, the race riots.  LBJ couldn’t understand it.  He had given so much with his Great Society and yet people didn’t love him.  All because of that damn war in Vietnam.  JFK’s war.  How he wished they never went there.  It was a distraction to his beloved Great Society.  And it was a bitch to pay for. 

Bad Domestic Agendas, Bad Foreign Policy

Unlike FDR, LBJ could not win his war.  Of course, FDR didn’t have hippies who hated their country protesting against him.  Just a bunch of communists in his administration who were simpatico with his Big Government view.  Because of Vietnam, though, the Left would never have the same fond feelings for LBJ as they do for FDR. 

Their foreign policy has made the world a less safe place.  FDR gave us 44 years of Cold War.  And LBJ weakened the United States by his failure in Vietnam.  Made us a paper tiger.  Made our enemies not fear us anymore.  They started taking chances.   Doubting our will to respond to their aggression.  Or, if we did, they figured we would just cut and run after a few casualties.  And that has been their strategy since.  Not to win.  But to make us quit.  By making us bleed.

Following World War II we had great prosperity.  Peace.  And happiness.  The 1950s.  Following Vietnam, we had stagflation and misery.  High crime rates.  Drug infestation and abject poverty in our big cities.  Abortion and birth control.  The 1970s.  All this despite the programs of LBJ’s Great Society that were to end all those woes.  And with the declining birthrate, the fiscal problems would only get worse.

Their domestic programs are pushing the nation ever closer to bankruptcy.  There appears to be no solution to the damage they’ve done.  Or will do.  Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid will either bankrupt the country.  Or ignite civil unrest as benefits are slashed.  Neither will be good for the country.  But this is what we get from presidents with aggressive domestic agendas.  Fiscal crises.  Domestic unrest.  And an unsafe world.

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LESSONS LEARNED #51: “The longer you wait to balance your books the harder it will be to balance them.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 3rd, 2011

Almost half of a Plantation’s Value was its Slaves

Slave labor wasn’t cheap.  First there was the capital expenditure to purchase the slaves.  Then you had to feed them, clothe them, house them, etc.  It took money.  But that money made money.  Mostly on the big plantations.  Where the division of labor was minimal.  And large labor gangs could work a single crop profitably.

The more slaves on a plantation the more land they could work.  So the more slaves on a plantation the more valuable the plantation was.  Like a dairy farm with many dairy cows is worth more than one with fewer cows.  A productive dairy farm makes money.  And it can borrow money to grow.  Ditto for a cotton plantation. 

Now suppose we free dairy cows everywhere.  They’re free to walk off of their farms and pursue their own lives.  What will become of the dairy farm?  It won’t make money.  It won’t be able to pay back its loans.  The farm will lose value.  Because no one will buy it without the cows to make milk.  Dairy farmers everywhere will go broke.  And they will lose their farms.   

If not for the Civil War, Abolition would have been the Greatest of all Bailouts

When we discuss slavery, we focus more on issues of morality.  But the reason we had it for so long is partly due to the economics.  There was a large price tag attached to abolition.  And the question was who was going to pay?  Slavery, though immoral, was legal.  The plantations grew.  They purchased more slaves.  Worked more land.  Incurred debts to grow further.  All based on the collateral of their plantation.  Much of which was their slaveholdings.

Based on the 1790 census, there were just fewer than 700,000 slaves in America.  At the time, the nation’s finances were in a mess.  We were begging Europe to loan us money.  There was no money available to reimburse the slave owners.  And the North didn’t want to pay for this ‘southern’ problem.  There was no easy way to free the slaves without a huge financial hit.  For someone.  So we tabled the issue.  For another generation to consider.  And resolve.

But we didn’t.  By 1860, the slave population topped 3.8 million.  That’s over 5 times the number from the 1790 census.  The cost to reimburse these slave holders had grown to over $3 billion dollars.  That was almost 70% of the 1860 GDP.  In comparison, the total budget of George W. Bush reached as high as 69% of GDP.  Clearly, the cost of freeing the slaves was huge.  It dwarfed all other federal spending.  And this is one of the reasons that it took a war to finally resolve.  And it was our nation’s bloodiest conflict.  More died in the American Civil War than did in WWI and WWII combined.  And the war devastated the southern economy.  Besides the direct war damage, the South was impoverished.  And easy pickings for northern carpetbaggers.

The issue of slavery was less costly to resolve sooner than later.  But the price was always so great that the institution continued on because no one was willing to bear the costs at any time.  This only guaranteed that the final reckoning would be greater.  Which it was.  The final cost was so great it nearly destroyed the nation.  And bitter feelings linger to this day.

Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

Woodrow Wilson and his fellow Progressives were going to change the world.  But that didn’t work so well.  In fact, a lot of their meddling just crashed the economy.  Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon helped President Warren Harding fix the economy.  And we got the Roaring Twenties.

But the Progressives kept tinkering.  And Republican Herbert Hoover was even a bit of a Progressive himself.  Anyway, some government mismanagement (and inept Federal Reserve actions) gave us the Great Depression.  Our nation’s greatest crisis.   Which Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) would exploit to transform the nation with his New Deal.

FDR’s economic policies failed.  Only capitalism re-unfettered for the war effort brought the nation back.  Even though he failed he is still remembered fondly by most Americans.  He stood fast with our allies and defeated Nazi Germany.  And he gave us Social Security.  Which, financially speaking, will cost the nation more than defeating the Nazis did.

The Great Ponzi Scheme Social Security

Social Security was originally intended to help poor widows who had struggled through the Great Depression.  It has subsequently grown to cover retirement and disabilities.  Not a big deal then.  The actuaries crunched their numbers.  They took into account immigration, birthrates, life spans, death rates and other important stuff.  Like actuaries are wont to do.  And they figured it would work.  Because we had a growing population.  With a lot more younger people entering the workforce than there were old people retiring and collecting benefits.

So, like a Ponzi scheme, Social Security was as sound as a pound.  As long as their assumptions held.  But they didn’t.  Immigration slowed.  Our life spans increased.  And worse, we just weren’t having as many babies as we once did.  Now we had more people retiring and collecting benefits.  And fewer entering the workforce to pay for these retirees.  The pyramid inverted itself.  The base was smaller than the tip.  And that just ain’t good for a Ponzi scheme.

Everyone predicts Social Security will go bankrupt.  They’ve been trying to fix it through the years.  To extend the solvency.  By reducing benefits.  Raising taxes.  And raising the retirement age (to decrease the years retirees collect benefits).  These ‘fixes’ have pushed insolvency out a few more years.  But it hasn’t addresses the elephant in the room.  Old people.  They’re living longer than the actuaries ever imagined.  Worse, because they’re living so long, they’re getting all kinds of medical problems that are costing Medicare and Medicaid a lot of money.  And, you guessed it, they’re going bankrupt, too.

Why Fix something Today that we can Leave for Future Generations?

Because there are so many seniors in these programs no politician wants to touch them.  They’re the ‘third rails’ of politics.  Seniors vote.  And if you cut their benefits, they’re probably not going to vote for you.  Every politician knows this well.  So, like slavery, they table the issue for a later generation to address.  But every day that passes, more seniors join the ranks of the retired and begin collecting benefits.  While fewer people enter the workforce to pay for their retirement.  Which guarantees that the cost to fix these problems will grow ever larger.

The day of reckoning will arrive.  It always does.  For the issue of slavery it was civil war.  Over in Europe as they struggle to control their out of control spending they’re having riots.  Which sometimes happens when you take away stuff from large numbers of people.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that here.  But one thing that we can be pretty certain about.  Fixing this problem is going to hurt someone in the wallet.  And the longer we wait, the greater that someone will hurt.

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The State of the Union Address Ignores the 800 Pound Gorilla in the Room: Old People.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 26th, 2011

Old People:  God Love them but they’re Killing Us

The State of the Union Address was very similar to the one last year.  And a lot of Obama’s campaign speeches.  He still wants to invest (i.e., spend).  Even though record spending to date hasn’t helped anything.  We have record debt.  And deficits.  The nation is broke.  And yet he still wants to spend.  I mean, ‘invest’.

But we can’t ‘invest’ anymore.  We don’t have the money.  We can’t borrow anymore.  Or print anymore.  Without creating problems we can’t walk away from.  We have to reduce the deficit.  For real.  Can’t just talk about it.  And we can’t keep raising taxes.  Because that would stall the economic recovery.  If there was any economic recovery to stall.  No, we can’t indulge in these fantasies anymore (see How Obama’s speech muddied the budget debate by Robert J. Samuelson posted 1/27/2011 on The Washington Post).

What we got were empty platitudes. We won’t be “buried under a mountain of debt,” Obama declared. Heck, we’re already buried. We will “win the future.” Not by deluding ourselves, we won’t. Americans think deficits are someone else’s problem that can be cured by taxing the rich (say liberals) or ending wasteful spending (conservatives). Obama indulged these fantasies.

If deficits stemmed mainly from the recession, this wouldn’t matter. They would shrink as the economy recovered; tax collections would rise and spending (on unemployment insurance, food stamps) would fall. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. In fiscal 2010, the deficit – the gap between government spending and revenue – was $1.3 trillion. Of that, about $725 billion was a “structural” deficit, says Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. That is, it would exist even if the economy were at full employment (5.75 percent by Zandi’s estimate).

Ouch.  Even Reagan’s tax cuts of the Eighties couldn’t fix this.  There’s a problem on the spending side.  A huge problem.  We have to address this problem.  If we don’t, nothing we do on the revenue side will amount to a hill of beans.

The real issue isn’t the deficit. It’s the exploding spending on the elderly – for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – which automatically expands the size of government. If we ended deficits with tax increases, we would simply exchange one problem (high deficits) for another (high taxes). Either would weaken the economy, and sharply higher taxes would represent an undesirable transfer to retirees from younger taxpayers.

And there it is.  Old people.  God love them but they’re killing us. 

So How do we Reduce the Deficit and Care for the Elderly?

Old people are killing us.  There’s no getting around that.  But we just can’t abandon them in their retirement.  But we have to do something with Social Security and Medicare before they bankrupt the country.

The first thing we need to do is the easiest thing.  Repeal Obamacare.  If we don’t, it’s just going to be Medicare writ large.  We haven’t suckered anyone into dependence yet.  So just end it.  Before we do.  This will eliminate a future problem.  So we can address the current ones.

Defined benefit pension plans are a thing of the past.  They’re chronically underfunded.  And mismanaged.  Just look at our biggest cities.  Those public sector pension plans are bankrupting them.  Meanwhile, most businesses have moved away from them.  Instead, they use 401(k) plans.  Or other plans where the employee is in charge.  Not the employer.  Best thing about these?  They’re portable.  You contribute.  And the money is yours.  No matter how long you work at a company.  The government needs to move in this direction.  They need to make a transition from a defined benefit pension plan (i.e., Social Security) to a personal retirement plan (i.e., a 401(k), an IRA, etc.).  The oldest people will be more in the Social Security system as we know it.  The younger people will be in a personal retirement plan.  And don’t start bitching about the risk of putting our retirement money into the stock market.  First of all, stocks are cyclical.  They usually climb after they fall.  Second, Social Security is going belly up.  Once it does, you ain’t getting anything out of it anyway.  So it’s a moot point.  At least with the stock market, we have a chance to retire.

The government has to get out of health care.  It’s a very complex thing.  And the most unqualified people shouldn’t run complex things.  Like pensions, we need to put people in charge of their health care.  We need to transition to private health insurance.  And remove the obstacles in the health insurance industry (restriction of competing across state lines, tort reform, etc.).  We have to move away from Medicare.  People need to buy their own private health insurance policies.  The oldest people in the system can get vouchers to help them.  The younger ones just need to learn NOW that they will have to take care of themselves.  The best thing about this?  Your health insurance will be portable.  You’ll never have to work again at a place you hate because of their health insurance benefit.  You can do whatever the hell you want to.  Because you will be paying for your own health insurance.  And you’ll take the same insurance with you no matter how many times you change your job.  Your days of bitching about a change in your prescription coverage will be over.  Because you will be getting exactly what you choose to buy.

Now, doing the above is going to cost.  Because there is no such thing as a Social Security trust fund.  Or Medicare insurance.  It’s all pay as you go.  Today’s taxes pay for today’s beneficiaries.  So when the young transfer out of the existing systems, there will be a huge funding shortfall for these systems.  We will have to borrow to cover this transition period.  But we will have to show that this borrowing is a temporary thing.  So that our creditors won’t fear that we’ll be dancing with default.  And how do we do that?  By making huge tax cuts. And by making sweeping rollbacks in regulation.  You make the United States so business friendly that jobs come running back to this country.  Because business owners will see that if you want to be profitable in business, you have to locate your business in the United States.  Sure, there will be some revenue shortfalls in the beginning of the transition.  But in the long run, the economic expansion will shower Washington in tax revenue.  Even at lower tax rates.  And because businesses are being so profitable, they’ll be bidding up labor rates to get the best employees.  Because they’ll have to.  You see, in a bustling economy with portable retirement and health insurance plans, no one will have to work where they don’t want to.  Everybody wins.  Employers.  Employees.  Even government.  Because they will finally escape the huge costs of Social Security and Medicare.

Getting back to the Founding Fathers

So there you have it.  A simple and doable plan.  In bullet form, the plan is:

  • Repeal Obamacare
  • Privatize Social Security
  • Privatize Medicare
  • Cut taxes and rollback regulation
  • Live happily ever after

Simple.  And the transition pains will hurt far less than bankruptcy.  Of course, there is a downside to this simple plan.  At least for Big Government liberals.  Because this plan gives us limited government.  Like the Founding Fathers wanted.  Which isn’t all that bad for liberals.  Because in this plan they’ll lose their jobs in a booming economy where there will be other jobs available for them.  Unlike being laid off when the Great Recession turns into another Great Depression.

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LESSONS LEARNED #48: “Government benefits aren’t from the government. They’re from the taxpayers.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 13th, 2011

Defense Spending is in the Constitution, Entitlements Aren’t – And it’s Entitlement Spending that’s Growing

People like to bitch about defense spending.  And I can understand why.  It’s a lot of money.  Just to kill people and break things.  People would rather see that money spent on education.  Health care.  Food assistance for the poor.  Entitlements.  Those nice, generous, government benefits.  The kinder, gentler side of government spending. 

People like the free stuff.  They want to get something for all those taxes other people are paying.  And it just kills them to see it spent on the military.  Because they’d rather see that money spent on them.  Of course if you read the Constitution, you’ll find defense spending in there.  It’s in the preamble (provide for the common defense).  You’ll find it in Article I.  In Article II, too.  Defense spending is pretty conspicuous in the Constitution.  Conspicuous by their absence, though, are entitlements.  Did the Founding Fathers overlook this?  No.  It was the whole point of federalism.  They designed the central government to do only those things that the states couldn’t.  To establish credit for the new nation, to treat with foreign nations, to coin money, etc.  And, of course, to provide and maintain a military force.  Alexander Hamilton wanted it to do more.  And he stretched the “necessary and proper” clause in Article I for some of the things he wanted the central government to do (to try and make the nation rich and powerful like Great Britain).  Pity, too.  For the Left has been stretching that clause ever since.

All right, defense spending is a constitutional requirement of the federal government.  Entitlements aren’t.  So how much are we spending on these?   In 1962, defense spending was 49% of all federal spending (see Federal Spending by the Numbers 2010).  Social Security and Medicare (the two biggest entitlements) were 13%.  Current baseline projections show that, in 2020, defense spending will drop to 14%.  And Social Security and Medicare will rise to 36%.  Medicare is the real cost driver here.  In the decade from 2000 to 2010, Medicare spending has jumped 81%.  It is outgrowing Social Security and Medicaid.  The runaway costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the Big Three) are projected to equal total current tax revenues in the year 2020.  That means the total federal budget today will only pay for the Big Three in 2020.  Concerned?  You should be.  Especially if you’re a taxpayer.

You can pay Uncle Sam with the Overtime.  And will.

Taxpayer, beware.  The government is feeling especially generous.  With your money.  By 2020, Washington will be spending $35,604 per household.  That’ll take almost $5,000 in additional taxes per household for the Big Three alone.  That is projected to jump to $12,636 in 2050.  And that doesn’t include Obamacare.  When that is factored in, it’ll cost you as much as paying cash for a new car each and every year.  And a nice one, not a subcompact with a sewing machine for an engine.  Can you afford that?  I hope so.  Because you won’t have a choice.  You’ll be buying it.  But not for yourself.  No.  That nice beautiful car you’ll be buying each and every year?  You don’t get to drive it.  It will be for someone else.

The entitlement spending is getting so out of hand that we have record deficits.  Compounding this problem is the 2008 recession corresponding with a huge jump in entitlement spending.  It’s opened a rather large gap between revenue and spending.  And that gap isn’t going anywhere soon.  Unless they cut entitlements.  Or raise taxes.  And you know they won’t be cutting entitlements.  So, guess what?  You can pay Uncle Sam with the overtime.  Because that’s all you’ll get for your money (borrowed from Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)).  So get used to it.  Paying Uncle Sam.  Because Sam is going to raise your taxes.  He has no choice.  Because he won’t cut entitlements.

And they’ll have to raise taxes.  Because we’re running out of creditors to borrow from.  I mean, the Chinese only have so much money to lend.  And we can’t keep printing money.  They’ve been doing that.  Quantitative easing, they call it.  But they can’t keep doing it.  Anyone alive during the Seventies will know why.  Or anyone who has done some reading outside the public school curriculum.  In a word, stagflation.  That’s a phenomenon where you have both high inflation and high unemployment.  It’s usually one or the other.  The normal rules of economics don’t allow both to happen at the same time.  Unless you’re printing money like there’s no tomorrow.  Which they were in the late Sixties and Early Seventies.  To pay for the Vietnam War.  NASA’s Apollo program (to the moon and back).  And, of course, entitlement spending.  The biggest to date was a group of programs we called the Great Society.  Inflation was so bad that they joked about it on Saturday Night Live.  Dan Aykroyd played President Jimmy Carter, joking about the pleasure of owning a $400 suit.  And how easy it was to just call the treasury to have them print off another sheet of hundred dollar bills.  (Or something like that.)

The Reagan Deficits were Bad, but they Make the Obama Deficits look Good

The Seventies were a bad time.  Economically speaking.  Printing money was bad.  Quantitative easing was bad.  Easy money was bad.  So Paul Volcker started tightening monetary policy.  And Ronald Reagan cut taxes. And the Eighties were like a glorious spring following the bleakest of winters.  But you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  The liberal Democrats weren’t going to roll over and cry ‘uncle’.  For they knew there was more spending left that they could do. 

So the spending continued.  Reagan had a Democrat Congress.  They fought him tooth and nail.  But he spoke directly to the American people and got his tax cuts.  And Reagan’s tax cuts resulted in a windfall of revenue.  And the Dems in Congress couldn’t spend the money fast enough.  Actually, they could.  They spent it so fast that surpluses soon turned into deficits.  They blamed Reagan’s defense spending.  So he made a deal.  He agreed to increase taxes.  If they would cut some of their entitlement spending.  To get the deficits under control.  So they did.  Increased taxes.  But they never cut spending.  Which just goes to show you that you can’t trust liberal Democrats.

You youngsters probably have no memory of these times.  But Ronald Reagan was attacked more than George W. Bush.  Hell, he was attacked almost as much as Abraham Lincoln.  The Seventies were the high-water mark of liberalism.  Then it went head to head with Reagan’s limited government supply-side economics in the Eighties.  And lost.  The hatred for Reagan knew no bounds.  For he was the man that repudiated liberalism.  So they attacked him ruthlessly. Screamed about his defense spending.  And yet his deficits were only around $200 billion.  Obama’s, on the other hand, are around $1,500 billion.  But they’re okay with that.  It’s no big deal, they say.  Just raise the debt ceiling.

It’s Spending, not Tax Cuts, that’s Causing those Record Deficits

But they can’t just raise the debt ceiling to keep spending.  Because spending is the problem.  Our debt is approaching 100% of our GDP.  When you’re borrowing money at record levels, you’re doing this because you just can’t raise taxes anymore.  You put the two together and it’s destroying the economy.  Taxes kill economic activity.  And the interest on the debt is soaring.  It’s projected to be approximately $760 billion in 2020.   That’s more than 70% of the projected budget deficit.  That means that most of the money we’ll be borrowing will go to pay the interest on the money we’ll be borrowing.  At that rate we’ll never pay down our debt.

Revenue averaged 18.0% of GDP from 1960-2009.  During the same period, spending averaged 20.3% of GDP from 1960-2009.  Not good.  But not too bad.  That’s a small, somewhat manageable deficit.  But spending takes off in 2010.  It’s projected to rise to 26.5% of GDP.  Meanwhile, revenue is projected to rise only to 18.2% of GDP.  That’s a projected deficit of 8.3% of GDP.  That’s fricking huge.  And that’s all runaway spending causing this mammoth deficit.  It ain’t tax cuts causing this.  It’s those entitlements.  Those fat, generous government benefits.

By this time there won’t be anything left to cut from the defense budget.  So they will have to turn to the generosity of the taxpayers.  And hope they enjoy personal sacrifice.  Because they’re going to be doing a lot of that.  To pay for these generous benefits.  These benefits for other people.

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Partnering with the Grim Reaper: Saving Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 29th, 2010

Taxing the Young to Save Medicare for the Old

Medicare and Social Security make up the lion’s share of the federal budget.  The government is setting records for both deficits and debt.  And everyone is projecting both of these programs to go bankrupt.  A dim picture for anyone hoping to rely on either for their retirement.  And they’re worried (see AP-GfK Poll: Baby boomers fear outliving Medicare by Jennifer Agiesta and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar posted 12/29/2010 on the Associated Press).

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that baby boomers believe by a ratio of 2-to-1 they won’t be able to rely on the giant health insurance plan throughout their retirement.

The boomers took a running dive into adolescence and went on to redefine work and family, but getting old is making them nervous.

Now, forty-three percent say they don’t expect to be able to depend on Medicare forever, while only 20 percent think their Medicare is secure. The rest have mixed feelings.

The problem with both Medicare and Social Security is that they are both Ponzi schemes.  Scams by the government to make generations dependent on government.  And to funnel a lot of cash to Washington.  But the Baby Boomers mucked up the works.  Their free love in the 60s and use of birth control and abortion left their family tree a barren one.  The boomer generation of families with maybe 2-3 kids will support in retirement their parent’s generation of families with 10+kids.  There’ll be more people entering retirement than entering the workforce to pay for those retirees.

Here’s the math: when the last of the boomers reaches age 65 in about two decades, Medicare will be covering more than 80 million people. At the same time, the ratio of workers paying taxes to support the program will have plunged from 3.5 for each person receiving benefits currently, to 2.3.

And the numbers are worse.  Because Social Security will be covering those same people.  We’re approaching one working person supporting one person in retirement (Medicare and Social Security benefits combined).  Even Bernie Madoff’s great Ponzi scheme had a better ratio when his pyramid imploded.  It just isn’t sustainable anymore.  Something’s gotta give.  And by something I mean benefits paid out to people.

The government can’t balance its books without dealing with health care costs, and Medicare is in the middle. Some leading Republicans and a few Democrats have called for phasing out the program and instead giving each retiree a fixed payment — or voucher —to help them buy private medical insurance of their choice. The poll found doubts about the idea, and a generational debate.

Overall, a narrow majority (51 percent) of Americans opposed the voucher plan. But those born after 1980 favored it by 47 percent to 41 percent, while seniors opposed it 4-to-1. A majority of boomers were also opposed, with 43 percent strongly objecting.

And here’s the problem.  Those who don’t pay payroll taxes anymore (retirees) are all for raising taxes to pay for their current level of benefits.  No matter how much it bankrupts future generations.  And these people vote.  More than anyone else.  So for good reason they call Social Security the third rail of politics.  You touch it at your own peril.  Those with a lifetime of paying taxes ahead of them, on the other hand, would rather raise a family than support an individual in retirement.  Not only do they want to touch the third rail, they want to short it out.  But they don’t have the numbers.  Yet.

States to Make Steep Cuts in Medicaid to Stave off Bankruptcy

And we even haven’t talked about Medicaid yet.  This program is bankrupting the states.  It’s their biggest budget item.  And they can’t sustain it any longer (see Medicaid Pushes U.S. States Off ‘Cliff’ as Governors Seek Cuts by Christopher Palmeri and Pat Wechsler posted 12/22/2010 on Bloomberg).

Governors nationwide are taking a scalpel to Medicaid, the jointly run state and federal health-care program for 48 million poor Americans, half of whom are children. The single biggest expense for states, Medicaid consumes about 22 percent of their total $1.6 trillion in expenditures, more than what is allocated to elementary and secondary education, according to a National Governors Association report.

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.  You know that states aren’t going to cut education.  The unions won’t let them.  So they have to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room.  And cut Medicaid.

Governors are slashing Medicaid to close as much as $140 billion in budget deficits for the 12 months starting in July 2012, after eliminating $130 billion in gaps this year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research group. Spending is being cut even though state revenues rose for the three quarters ended Sept. 30, as the U.S. recovered from the longest recession since the Great Depression, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, New York, said in a Nov. 30 report.

“I don’t think most states want to sentence people to death,” said Judy Solomon, co-director of health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy. “But what we see is a pretty bleak picture of tough cuts made this year, and next year’s numbers look worse.”

The sad truth is that sick people are costly.  Dead people aren’t.  So you can see where this is going.  Rationing.

Spending on Medicaid nationwide rose 8.8 percent last year, the most since 2002, according to Kaiser. Nearly every state issued at least one new policy to cut program costs in the past two years, including benefit reductions, increased copays and lower reimbursements to health-care providers.

Cost cutting and reductions in benefits.  Rationing.  And you know where that will lead to.  More dead people.  Which is the only thing that will save Medicaid.  That, or federal contributions.

Every state has a unique formula for calculating the federal contribution for Medicaid. The 12 with the highest personal income, including California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Colorado, typically depend on the U.S. government for about half their expenditures.

Lucky for the states that the federal government has money to spare.  Wait a tic, they don’t.  They’re setting record deficits and debt.  They don’t have the money.  Especially now that they’ve thrown Obamacare into the mix.  And the cost for this behemoth will dwarf Medicare and Medicaid.

States face the prospect of enrolling 16 million more people in Medicaid beginning in 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health-care law Obama signed in March. It expands coverage to include certain childless adults under 65, according to Foley & Lardner LLP, a law firm in Milwaukee. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the increased expense for the first three years.

Well, perhaps not.  They’ll be sticking the states with some of those costs.  Poor states.  These unfunded federal mandates are killing them.  But they won’t be the only ones dying.  In three years time, when those federal subsidies expire, some of the current Medicaid patients may lose their heath care benefits.  And die.

Death Panels to Decide Life and Death

The problem with healthcare is that the raison d’être of healthcare is the very thing bankrupting it.  Providing healthcare to sick and dying people.  If the sick and dying would just hurry up and die these healthcare programs (Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare) would be just fine.  If only there was some mechanism to encourage people to take a pill to manage pain instead of consuming expensive healthcare services.  I mean, they are only delaying the inevitable.  They should just suck it up.  And do the right thing.  After receiving something like, oh, I don’t know, let’s call it end of life counseling (see WSJ Opinion Death Panels Revisited posted 12/29/2010 on The Wall Street Journal).

On Sunday, Robert Pear reported in the New York Times that Medicare will now pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling as part of seniors’ annual physicals. A similar provision was originally included in ObamaCare, but Democrats stripped it out amid the death panel furor. Now Medicare will enact the same policy through regulation.

We hadn’t heard about this development until Mr. Pear’s story, but evidently Medicare tried to prevent the change from becoming public knowledge. The provision is buried in thousands of Federal Register pages setting Medicare’s hospital and physician price controls for 2011 and concludes that such consultations count as a form of preventative care.

No wonder they hid it.  Encouraging people to hurry up and die.  That’s something that doesn’t win you points at the PTA.  The law as written isn’t all that bad, though.  The panels are voluntary.  So far.  But everything Big Government has done started small.  They are, after all, the master of incrementalism.  And with out of control healthcare spending bankrupting Medicare and Medicaid, what do you think these panels will evolve into?

The regulatory process isn’t supposed to be a black-ops exercise, but expect many more such nontransparent improvisations under the vast powers ObamaCare handed the executive branch. In July, the White House bypassed the Senate to recess appoint Dr. Berwick, who has since testified before Congress for all of two hours, and now he promulgates by fiat a reimbursement policy that Congress explicitly rejected, all while scheming with his political patrons to duck any public scrutiny.

If there was nothing to hide they wouldn’t have hidden this provision so deep in the federal register.  But when you hide things, there are reasons you hide them.  So much for transparency.  And the most ethical Congress ever (of course an ethical Congress is a moot point when the executive rules by fiat).

Under highly centralized national health care, the government inevitably makes cost-minded judgments about what types of care are “best” for society at large, and the standardized treatments it prescribes inevitably steal life-saving options from individual patients. This is precisely why many liberals like former White House budget director Peter Orszag support government-run health care to control costs: Technocrats in government can then decide who gets Avastin for cancer, say, and who doesn’t.

When a government bureaucrat decides who gets life-saving medication and who doesn’t, that sounds like a death panel to me.  Because that decision has the power of life and death.  They can be as nontransparent as they want but the truth is pretty clear.  To control the out of control spending of Medicare and Medicaid (and, in time, Obamacare), they will be partnering with the Grim Reaper.  Because dead people don’t consume health care benefits.  And that is their biggest problem.  Consumers of benefits.

The Swedish National Health Care System Rations Care

So what about the social utopias of European Socialism?  Those advanced nations that have national healthcare?  Are they having these problems?  Of course they are.  In fact, their future is ours.  Here’s a small sampling of what to expect (see Man’s penis amputated following misdiagnosis posted 12/29/2010 in Science and Technology on The Local).

A Swedish man was forced to have his penis amputated after waiting more than a year to learn he had cancer.

The man, who is in his sixties, first visited a local clinic in Blekinge in southern Sweden in September 2009 for treatment of a urinary tract infection, the local Blekinge Läns Tidning (BLT) reported.

When he returned in March 2010 complaining of foreskin irritation, the doctor on duty at the time diagnosed the problem as a simple case of inflammation.

After three weeks passed without the prescribed treatment alleviating the man’s condition, he was instructed to seek further treatment at Blekinge Hospital.

But it took five months before he was able to schedule an appointment at the hospital.

When he finally met with doctors at the hospital, the man was informed he had cancer and his penis would have to be removed.

It remains unclear if the man would have been able to keep his penis had the cancer been detected sooner.

The matter has now been reported to the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) under Sweden’s Lex Maria laws, the informal name used to refer to regulations governing the reporting of injuries or incidents in the Swedish health care system.

Misdiagnosis.  And long waits.  National healthcare.  Where government bureaucrats cut costs and make doctors work long hours.  Not a very attractive offer for all those years of medical school.  So there’s a doctor shortage.  And, consequently, long waits.  In this case, 6 months to be advised he needed to go someplace else.  Then another 5 to get an appointment someplace else.  In the mean time the cancer spread.  This is what happens when you ration health care.

Is this the future you want?  It’s not the future I want.

The Third Rail of Politics is a Generational Thing

It’s a generational battle.  The young want to cut taxes (and benefits).  Because they’re paying those taxes.  And not consuming the benefits.  The old want to raise taxes and maintain benefits.  Because they’re not paying those taxes.  But are consuming the benefits.  Right now there are more old than young.  So you can guess who will win this struggle.  Bankrupting the future will help the politicians stay in office today.  So the old will win.

But there is a little irony in all of this.  To save these programs (Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare), they need old people to die.  But once they do, the politicians will lose their political support.  The younger generation (whose future the politicians mortgaged) will then broom them out of office.  And they will be all too glad to short out that third rail once and for all.

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Estate Taxes and Social Security – are the Dead People or Cash Piñatas?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 18th, 2010

The Lord Taketh Away.  And the Lord Giveth.

I sat in some construction meetings for a small church building a new nave.  I learned a few things about churches.  And construction.  First of all, church projects have a lot of alternates in their bid proposals.  Because they always want more than their budgets can pay for.  But they’re ever hopeful.  When they pass that basket around.  To add some of those alternates.  Even ask for donations during construction.  From the contractors building their new nave.  But the biggest thing I learned was the value of dead people.

This church had grandiose plans.  A pipe organ.  A light dimming system.  A sound system.  And some really nice (and expensive) chandeliers (they install some plain-Jane lights until they could afford the more spectacular lighting).  But, alas, they did not raise enough money to include all of these things.  And to make matters worse, they ran into some unexpected costs.  They had to make cuts.  Even some of the things that they had already approved.  The owner’s representative was not a happy camper.  He had to sit in a lot of meetings to reach a consensus on what to cut from the project.  But there was never any consensus.  Then, one day, he came to the construction meeting with a big smile on his face.

Someone had died.  And he was a parishioner.  A well-to-do parishioner.  The owner’s rep got a heads up on what the dead guy had bequeathed to the church.  And it was enough to not only keep the approved alternates.  But big enough to add a few other things.  And he smiled.

Death and Taxes – A Liberal’s Favorite Things

In all fairness to the church, they did a lot of charitable work in their community.  But there are other people who smile when old people die.  And they’re not helping the community as much as stuffing their pockets and the pockets of their friends.

Social Security is a great cash piñata for the government.  That’s why they are dead set against privatizing Social Security.  You see, it’s a numbers game.  Or racket.  Working people pay into a ‘retirement fund’ while they work.  Then when they retire, they get ‘benefit payments’.  And if you die the day after retiring, the government gets a big smile on their face.  Why?  Because they get to keep your ‘retirement fund’.  And that just wouldn’t happen if you had your retirement in a 401(k).

Private retirement investments (IRA, 401(k), insurance policy, etc.) are private property.  If you die before using those benefits, they go to your spouse, kids or other next of kin.  It’s your money.  And it stays in your family.  Well, some of it, at least.

When people use other investments other than the federal government, the government has other ways of getting your money when you die.  It’s called the estate tax.  The government sees the death tax as a statement of their generosity.  Instead of a 100% tax rate upon your death like with Social Security, it’s closer to 50% (depending on the current tax code).  Like George Harrison sang in Taxman, the government is basically telling us that we should just be thankful they’re not taking it all.

The Final Solution for Efficiency’s Sake

Liberal Democrats are obsessed with death.  To them it’s convenience and efficiency.  They like euthanasia.  They talk a lot about dignity at the end of life, but it’s also a great money saver.  As some sick and dying people can take a long time to die.  And Medicare and Medicaid pay for a lot them while they’re taking their time to die.  But euthanasia can change that.  And has.  In some of the more ‘bluer’ (i.e., liberal) states.

They like abortion, too.  They talk about it empowering women.  But is also a great money saver.  When unmarried teens get pregnant and they carry their baby to term, that baby will consume a lot of government benefits.  Of course, this is a double-edge sword.  The use of abortion (and birth control) has reduced the birthrate.  At a time the size of government has been expanding.  Which means there will be fewer taxpayers down the road to pay for that expanding government.

Of course, Obamacare brings it all home for the liberal Democrat.  The government will make healthcare a model of efficiency.  By deciding who should get treatment.  And who should get a pill to help them manage their pain.  Until they die.

Scary, isn’t it?  They deny it.  And they don’t use the word ‘death panels’ in the Obamacare legislation, but there are boards.  Who make healthcare decisions.  Based on cost.  And the only way to make healthcare more efficient is to spend less.  And you spend less when more sick and old people die.  And when it comes down to it, what is an old person?  Someone who is no longer a useful taxpayer.  But, instead, is a tax consumer.

And keeping them alive is just bad business when you’re in the business of life and death.

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LESSONS LEARNED #40: “Big Government is more efficient when old people die sooner.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 18th, 2010

Big Government is a Ponzi Scheme

When it comes to government funding, birthrates and death rates are key.  Think of government as a great Ponzi scheme.  Ponzi schemes work when more people pay into the scam than collect from the scam.  Like in a pyramid scheme.  Those collecting benefits are the few at the top.  Those paying in are the many at the base.

An increasing birthrate means more taxpayers for each successive generation.  This keeps the base of the pyramid growing.  A steady or increasing death rate keeps the top of the pyramid smaller than the base.  A declining death rate, on the other hand, will flip the pyramid upside down.  Because the population at the top will grow larger than the population at the bottom.

Big Government tries to keep as many people as possible dependent on government.  Lots of different programs attach lots of different people to the welfare state.  But when it comes to big numbers, old people can’t be beat.  The lion’s share of government assistance goes to them via Social Security and Medicare.  And they are the most politically active.  That means they vote.  And when they vote, they vote to keep their benefits.

Of course, this is a dual-edged sword.  Yes, old people can provide a loyal voting base to sustain Big Government.  But on the other hand, the cost of their benefits is growing so large that it is undermining the very foundations of Big Government.  How?  By the double whammy of a falling birthrate and a declining death rate.  For various reasons, fewer people are being born.  And old people are living longer.  This has flipped the pyramid in the great Ponzi scheme upside down.  The growth rate of those collecting benefits is greater than the growth rate of those paying into the scheme.

An Increasing Life Expectancy is Bankrupting Social Security

FDR signed Social Security into law in 1935.  The average life expectancy in 1930 was approximately 59 years.  The retirement age in the Social Security Act of 1935?  65.  That’s right, the average American would have been dead for 6 years before qualifying for Social Security retirement benefits.  That’s a 6 year cost cushion.  But not everyone died at 59, though.  So a lot of people lived to receive those benefits.  But one thing the actuaries were sure about then, this Ponzi scheme was going to be a big winner.  For Big Government.

The average life expectancy increased to approximately 70 years in 1960.  In other words, people were living approximately 11 years longer.  That 6 year cost cushion just became a 5 year cost exposure.  That’s a swing of 11 years.  The actuaries in 1930 never saw this coming.

Social Security had its first crisis in 1975.  To save the program, they increased payroll taxes and decreased benefits.  Another crisis came in 1983.  Now they started taxing some Social Security benefits.  Even taxed federal employees (who previously didn’t pay these payroll taxes).   And they would increase the retirement age for later retirees.

By 2000, the average life expectancy increased to approximately 77 years.  That’s another 7 years.  That’s a swing of 18 years from 1930.  A huge actuarial miscalculation.  The population was getting far older then the FDR administration ever guessed.  And, to make matters worse, the birthrate was declining.

A Declining Birthrate is Bankrupting Social Security

The birthrate (per thousand of population) had been declining from 1910 (30.1) to 1920 (27.1) to 1930 (21.3).  That’s about a 10% decline from 1910 to 1920.  And a 20% decline from 1920 to 1930.    Perhaps that’s the reason for the 6-year cost cushion they gave themselves.  They saw fewer babies being born.  Which meant fewer taxpayers would be paying for later retirees.

The birthrate fell to 19.4 in 1940.  Though it was falling, it wasn’t falling as much.  Only 9% from 1930 to 1940.  Then came the baby boom generation.  The birthrate in 1950 shot up to 24.1, a 24% increase from 1940.  More babies meant more taxpayers.  This birthrate held pretty steady in 1960.  No doubt the LBJ administration felt optimistic. 

LBJ exploded federal spending.  He added Medicare and Medicaid.  Made Social Security more generous.  And why not?  Things were looking up.  Birthrate-wise.

But it was short-lived.  The birthrate went from 23.7 in 1960 to 18.4 in 1970.  That’s a 22% decline.  The birthrate was 15.9 in 1980.  That was a 14% decline from 1970.  Or a 33% decline from 1960.  Birth control and abortion were taking their toll on the U.S. birthrate.  Fewer babies meant fewer future taxpayers.  And fewer taxpayers could pay for less government, not more.  The LBJ administration was wrong to feel optimistic.

The Selfish Baby Boomers Invert the Ponzi Scheme Pyramid

The baby boom generation has really thrown a wrench in the works.  The government used their spike in the birth rate as a baseline for future government spending.  But they screwed the government in the end.  Instead of being good little taxpayers by making even more little taxpayers, they stopped having babies.  They didn’t stop having sex.  They just stopped having babies.  It was the era of free love.  And ‘free love’ had no room for babies.

And it’s these baby boomers that are working themselves up to the top of the pyramid.  But being the selfish ingrates that they are, they’ve left no one to follow behind them to keep the Ponzi scheme going.  And to make matters worse, they’ll be living longer in retirement than anyone ever guessed.

It’s a perfect storm of sorts.  A declining death rate.  An even more declining birthrate.  And a huge chunk of the population about to go on the public dole.  But it gets even worse.  The boomers will be living longer in retirement because of huge outlays in Medicare spending to keep them alive.  In other words, the government is spending a fortune to make their financial problems worse.

Amnesty, Catholics and Dead Retirees May Save Social Security

They’re trying to fix things on the taxpayer side.  The Big Government legislators are desperate to give illegal aliens amnesty and citizenship.  To them it’s simple math.  More people equal more taxpayers.  And these taxpayers will be Catholic.  Catholics don’t use birth control and abortion like Americans currently do.  Their birthrate is less likely to decline.  (Approximately 1 in 5 of young children in the United States is Hispanic already.  They project that to increase to 1 in 4 within a few decades.)

On the benefit side, they’ve already raised the retirement age to 67.  And there’s talk about raising it to 69.  If more people die before they’re eligible to collect retirement, that’s a lot of benefits the government doesn’t have to pay.  They’re also talking about cutting the Medicare budget.  The less they spend, the more may die.  And dead people don’t consume Medicare benefits.

There’s no getting around the fact that old people are a huge drain on government.  Though they worked hard to get these people dependent on government, their continued living is becoming more of a burden than a benefit.  An increasing lifespan is anathema to Big Government.  Old retirees take more than they give.  Young workers, on the other hand, give more than they take.  The government needs more young workers.  And fewer old retirees.

(Social Security + Medicare) Spending = 2 X Defense Spending

To be efficient government has to minimize costs in relation to revenue (i.e., taxes).  And there’s an 800 pound gorilla in the room.  Old people.  Nothing can impact the budget more.  Even war.  Social Security and Medicare combined make up approximately 40% of the federal budget.  Defense spending is approximately 20%.  A blind man can see the gorilla.  Government needs these old people to hurry up and die.

And now add Obamacare to the equation.  Which will cover more people than Social Security.  The costs will be astronomical.  Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare will easily eclipse 60% of the total federal budget.  That kind of spending cannot be sustained.  Greece, France and Great Britain have proven this in the 21st century.

That’s some serious cost to contain.  And how do you contain that kind of cost?  You do what the Left says the private health insurers do.  Deny coverage to sick people.  And they will.  They’ll have to.  And with the power of life and death literally in their hands (i.e., death panels), they’ll be able to.  They’ll be able to maximize the number of young workers (by treating them).  Minimize the number of old retirees (by not treating them).  As well as minimize the number of undesirables who take more than they give (by not treating them).  Or even take more serious measures with those seriously ill or impaired (euthanasia).

Don’t think it can happen?  It’s happened in other Big Government states.  In fact, the Progressives even talked about the scientific benefits of eugenics and euthanasia here in the United States in the early 20th century.  To deal with undesirables.  So, yes, it could happen here.  Because it almost once did.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #40: “Big Government is more efficient when old people die sooner.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 16th, 2010

Revenues Must be Greater than Costs in Both Private Business and Government

Private business must make a profit.  That means the costs of their business can NOT exceed their revenues.  There may be times when costs do exceed revenue.  Such as during a recession.  Or when another business offers the same goods or services for less.  If these periods last too long, a business must act.  Find ways to increase their revenues.  Or cut costs.

Apple continues to innovate and create new products that people want.  This keeps their revenues greater than their costs.  GM, on the other hand, has not.  Their costs have exceeded their revenues.  So they have cut back on production.  And laid off people.  But, in the end, they still needed a government bailout to survive.

Government can tax and print money.  And run perpetual deficits.  So they don’t hold themselves to the same standards as private business.  But if they tax too much or print too much money, it can push the economy into recession and/or inflation.  So they try to make their revenues (taxes) cover as much of their costs (government spending) as possible. 

A Growing Population Can Fund Social Security and Big Government

If you go back 100 years, there was no Social Security.  No Medicare.  No big federal government.  That’s the way the Founding Fathers wanted it.  They minimized the money and reach of the federal government.  Because they were students of history.  They knew governments tended to oppress their people when they had money and power.

In the first century or so of our nation, it was easier to keep the size of government small.  Our population was small.  A big federal budget would require huge per capita taxes.  But that changed as the population grew.  Soon, it was possible to have big federal budgets from modest federal taxes.

We saw the growth of Big Government beginning around the turn of the 20th century.  First it was Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives.  Then came FDR.  He gave us Social Security.  Which was basically a Ponzi Scheme.  It worked at first as all Ponzi Schemes do.  As long as more people are entering into the scheme than collecting benefits, Social Security was sound as a pound.

Population Growth Rate and Big Government Peak and Crash in the 1970s

A growing population means a growing tax base.  The more babies are born, the more future taxpayers there will be.  And when FDR gave us Social Security, it wasn’t uncommon for a family to have 10 or more children.  That’s a lot of future federal taxes they could count on.

Then came LBJ.  He saw what FDR did.  Liked it.  Then tried to outdo him.  He gave us his Great Society (to end poverty and racial injustice).  And Medicare (health care for those 65 and older).  And other stuff.  But these programs were very, very expensive.  So he raised taxes.  A lot.

Then it all crashed in the 1970s.  The increase in taxes to pay for all that government spending stalled the economy.  When they tried to stimulate it with monetary policy, they unleashed inflation.  The U.S. dollar was convertible to gold then.  Which is a bad thing when you’re printing money.  For when you depreciate your currency, you increase the value of gold as measured by your currency; it takes a lot more devalued dollars to buy the same amount of gold.

Well, foreign governments exchanged their dollars for gold.  So much so that Nixon suspended the convertibility of dollars into gold in 1971.   Without the gold restraint on printing money, they printed even more.  We had both recession and inflation.  Stagflation.   Double digit inflation, interest rates and unemployment.  This malaise made Carter a one-term president.

Birth Control and Abortion – The Death Knell of Big Government

So what happened?  Where did it go all wrong?  It goes back to the number of taxpayers.  Something happened between FDR and the 1970s.  We weren’t having as many babies.

Instead of 10 or more children in families, many families were having only 2 or 3 kids.  Widespread use of birth control and abortion drastically reduced the population growth rate of the country.  Fewer taxpayers were being born than before.  Which meant that more people would be entering retirement than there would be new taxpayers entering the work force to pay for these retirees.

This is how Ponzi Schemes fail.  When there are more people drawing benefits than paying into the scheme, the whole house of cards collapses.  And this is a big problem for government.  To support their massive spending, they need more, not fewer, people entering the work force.

How can Government Save Social Security and Medicare?  Old People Just Need to Hurry Up and Die.

Well, there’s a couple of ways to address this problem.  First there’s the revenue side.  They can increase the taxes they collect.  By raising tax rates on individuals.  Or by simply creating more individuals to tax.  Such as amnesty for illegal aliens.  But both of these options are difficult to do without hurting your chances at getting reelected.

Then there’s the cost side.  They can cut benefits.  Increase the Social Security retirement age.  But these, too, have political consequences.  Because these old coots tend to vote more than any other demographic.  Which can make them a real pain in the behind.

Of course, if they would jut die before reaching retirement age, the government doesn’t have to pay them or their survivors.  And if they’re dead, they won’t be consuming any Medicare benefits.  You see, not only are they the most vocal group at election time, but they are also the most costly when it comes to government benefits.  The government could kill two birds with one stone if these old codgers would just hurry up and die.

One Way for Big Government to Cut Health Care Costs:  Death Panels

The government doesn’t see your mother or grandmother.  They’re looking at numbers in columns.  They are having trouble increasing the numbers in one column (tax revenue).  And are having trouble keeping the numbers in the other column from growing (benefits).  Because of old people.  Who don’t work anymore.  Or pay much in income taxes.  But they consume the lion’s share of the benefits.  They’re the biggest thorn in the government’s side.  If it wasn’t for them, their programs wouldn’t forever be facing bankruptcy.  You can see why they aren’t the government’s favorite people.

So they increase the retirement age.  In hopes more will die before reaching retirement.  And those who do reach retirement age, well, they’ll have fewer years left to enjoy their benefits.  And they make cuts in the Medicare program.  Disallow some reimbursements.  Maybe prod a few seniors to an earlier death.  Why?  Because these kinds of cost savings are the only cost savings that will have any impact in a government-managed system.

Then there’s the holy grail of Big Government.  Government-managed universal health care.  Obamacare, in its latest manifestation.  And, of course, it will end up just like Social Security and Medicare.  For the same reasons Social Security and Medicare ended up the way they did.  But Obamacare will have a new twist.

Government panels will determine who gets medical treatment.  And who doesn’t.  Based on a ‘return on investment’ analysis used to manage and optimize health care costs.  Will medical treatment result in more taxpaying years for the patient?  If yes, treatment approved.  If not, treatment not approved.  If anything, the government’s death panels will be a model of efficiency.  On paper.

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