by Mel Griffith
While the federal government continues to waste money in a wide variety of ways, three major programs make up the bulk of the budget. They are national defense, Social Security, and Medicare-Medicaid. A hundred years ago we had only one of these, and fifty years ago, only two. That partly explains why the government can no longer make ends meet. No matter how much waste is cut out in other areas, unless something is done about some of these, the country will eventually go broke. Defense doesn't offer much hope. Winding down the two wars we are engaged in should bring some savings, but as long as there are a significant number of people in the world who think that their version of God is telling them to kill everyone who disagrees with them it is not likely that we can reduce our military very much.
The health care system is in such turmoil that it is hard to predict what will happen. There are some things that we as a nation could do to become more healthy and thus reduce health care costs, but the public has shown little inclination to do them. We have known for sure for over fifty years that tobacco, especially smoking damages the health of those who use it, yet many folks keep right on using it. It is somewhat understandable that young people start smoking, because they are in a stage of life where they think they are invulnerable and nothing can happen to them. It is less understandable why mature adults who are old enough to know better keep on smoking when they know the risks. Another bad habit that damages health is obesity. That problem is actually increasing despite a better educated population. Evolution simply did not prepare us to deal with a constant abundance of food. It programmed us to prepare for periods of scarcity by eating all we could when we could get it so we could survive when there was little food. It is now necessary to intentionally overcome the natural instincts that have served us well for hundreds of generations because our situation has changed and there are no longer extended periods of scarcity to get rid of excess fat.
Neither of the above areas lend themselves to quick fixes. That leaves Social Security. Fortunately, something can be done about it. When Social Security started in the 1930s, the retirement age was 65 and the average life span not much longer. Logically, as the average life span went up, the retirement age should have followed. Instead, the retirement age was lowered to 62, a widely popular but unwise decision. There is really no good reason why able-bodied folks in their 60s should lead a life of ease supported by younger people, who frequently also have children to raise. No, you are not just getting back the money you paid into the system. They spent that long ago. You are being paid out of money currently being paid into the system by those now working. Soon, there won't be enough working folks to support all the retired folks. The only way to save the system in the long run is to raise the retirement age, perhaps to 70, with early retirement at 67. That won't be popular, but we should remember that before Social Security, most folks kept working as long as they were able, just as many "retired" folks do now. If Social security goes broke, that's what everyone will be doing whether they want to or not.