I found this very nice video of Simon Johnson explaining to CNN-Money’s Lex Harris why taxes will have to come up for everyone–not just the rich. (Simon’s video was embedded in an also-nice CNN-Money column by Joe Thorndike on the topic of “fairness” and taxing the rich.) Simon explains the basic math that I have emphasized over and over again here: (i) the fiscal gap is just too large to put just on the backs of (even) the rich; and (ii) yes, taxes will have to be part of the solution (no matter what you think about their role in creating the “problem”), because the spending paths are not something we could or would choose to flat-line, even as we try our best to damp them down. (BTW, I’m now reading Simon’s new book on the national debt, White House Burning (with James Kwak), which is excellent–particularly in putting the current problem in historical context and making common-sense recommendations that emphasize that “fiscal sustainability” depends on the paths of both the numerator of the debt and the denominator of the size of the economy.)
Hear me, Americans under 35!
There’s plenty that divides the parties in this pivotal election — from taxes to drones, from public workers to private equity. But there’s one uber-policy that brings Democrats and Republicans together that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
That policy involves you, younger Americans. You’re in big trouble. You don’t even know it. You’re busy trying to get a degree, land a job, start a family, save for a home. You don’t follow the news. But trust me — you’ve been taken for a ride by your elders.
The question isn’t whether such talk will stir up generational war. That’s already being waged — and you’re losing. The question is whether you’ll wake up and engage in a little generational self-defense. Let me see if I can motivate you.
How are you being swindled today? Let me count just some of the ways…
There’s no cash for such investments in the future because pension and health-care programs for seniors (plus a bloated Pentagon) take up so much of the budget. At the federal level, seven dollars go to programs supporting elderly consumption for every dollar invested in people under 18. Nationally (after taking account of the fact that most education is paid for at the state and local level), the ratio is still 2 1 / 2 to one.
And that’s just today’s elderly tilt. We have trillions in unfunded liabilities in these programs coming due as more and more boomers retire.
Yet amazingly, both parties would exempt every current senior from participating in the inevitable adjustments in these programs. Paul Ryan and Barack Obama lock arms in agreeing that everyone over 55 must be spared such changes, even though most of these Americans are getting back far more than they paid into the system. And millions are well-off…
The solution for the young people? Matt (with the help of Alan Simpson) explains you gotta fight fire with fire (emphasis added):
There are answers to these challenges that are fair to young and old alike. But we won’t hear them until younger people wake up to what’s happening.
In 1995, when I was a (younger) generational equity worrywart, I asked then-Sen. Alan Simpson how to fix what was clearly coming. Simpson told me nothing would change until someone like me could walk into his office and say, “I’m from the American Association of Young People. We have 30 million members, and we’re watching you, Simpson. You [mess with] us and we’ll take you out.”
Simpson was right then. He’s still right now.
All this talk about what’s “fair” to burden the rich with, and so little mention of our kids. That’s what’s really outrageous about the partisan bickering about deficit reduction, spending cuts, and tax increases: the politicians like to claim they are all about doing what’s right for our kids and grandkids–but when you pay close attention, you see their specific actions don’t match up with their vague words. I think the kids have to get more involved. The so-called “grownups” aren’t getting it done.