In poll after poll, Americans have voiced their preferences: they want low taxes and lots of government services. So writes Fareen Zakaria, Editor-at-Large of Time, in his essay, “Can America Be Fixed?” (Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb. 2013 pg. 26) While the author doesn’t answer his question, being unable to predict whether or not government can overmaster its parochial interests to attend to the nation, he does point to stumbling blocks that threaten our economy and leadership in the world.
One big hurdle is our aging population and the entitlement programs created to sustain the elderly in their golden years. Thanks to immigration and a fairly high fertility rate, the funding crisis for these programs isn’t immediate but it is looming. Currently, the United States has 4.6 working people for every 1 sent out to pasture. But in 25 years there will be 2.7 workers for every retiree. Given the trend, the cost of maintaining the current program levels will be unsustainable. Either cutbacks will occur or the United States will be forced to become “an insurance company with an army.” (Ibid, pg 32. Quote attributed to Ezra Klein, journalist.)
My first response to Zakaria’s article is to point a finger for our fiscal problems, not at social programs, but at two unbudgeted wars and the speculative bubble created by the financial system. Unfortunately, pointing fingers won’t solve the future crisis which everyone acknowledges is real.
Instead of laying blame, maybe it’s time for the country to pull together. Let those who can take a little less from Social Security agree to do so. Everyone pays into the system, but billionaires don’t need the assistance. As for Medicare, perhaps means testing should be considered. Some of us could pay higher premiums without landing in the poor house. To be honest, I don’t know how to solve the puzzle. I do know a little sacrifice for the greater good is an American tradition and more productive than signing petitions because we’d prefer someone else’s ox to be gored.
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*GDP is “the market value of all the goods and services produced by labor and property located in the region, usually a country