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Jjj Jjj

So this is just a ruse to kill off the republican base faster - they are less educated and older,after that taxes up.

On a serious note,this defeatist attitude is counterproductive.You don't really consider more income or cutting other spending and that's absurd especially given the topic.

Ed Rector

The USA has its own currency. There is no danger whatsoever of 'long term (in}solvency'. Judge Posner should know better.

Actually, he probably does know better; but those U. Chicago economists he has lunch with have gotten into his head.

jim kirby

It must be that a lot of folks who earn $150,000 and beyond have very little earned income, so that the proposal to deny them SS and Medicare benefits based in income would depend on considering unearned income as well.

And a guy like Warren Buffet could avoid all earned and unearned income by living off loans secured by his wealth, having no income at all and thus qualifying for full SS and Medicare benefits until the day he dies.

What a country!


Your means testing idea isn't really well thought out. Several important considerations remain about your proposal of a maximum income needed in order to qualify for future benefits: 1) if a person's earnings exceed your threshold only one working year, are they ineligible to receive any 'entitlements' in their retirement? 2) are people who've been paying into SS and have been budgeting that they would be collecting a certain amount of retirement income from SS, going to have their safety-net suddenly removed? What if they are close to retirement? At what age would you draw the line of unfairness?

Terry Bennett

The primary problem we face is cultural. We have positioned the government as an enabler. Social Security and Medicare are set up as contracts between the government and individuals. You pay into the plan, and you get a return - in fact a ridiculously generous return out of all proportion to your contribution. These programs should have been acknowledged from the start as taxes to fund welfare, with means tested payouts, but the socialists whose initials are so well known to us refused to degrade the self-esteem of their constituents in this way, preferring to prop up this national illusion that nobody really falls short and everyone is "entitled".

A new client intimated to me this week that she had nothing in her name - no car, no house, no bank account - even though she was obviously comfortable. When I asked if perhaps she might be concerned with avoiding creditors, she bristled at the perceived aspersion. Eventually she volunteered that she wanted to be sure Medicaid didn't rob her of her wealth at the end of her life. I'm sure she wouldn't dream of buying a product or service and not paying for it, but she doesn't see her strategy as dishonest in the least. It's what the government has taught us to do.

There is some basic arithmetic at work here. If you are going to consume some number of dollars of goods and services over your lifetime, then you ought to figure on producing at least that much (plus a little more to cover your charity toward those who fall a bit short, charitably collected by our IRS). That's why we have even money in the first place: it's a means of accountability. Under communism, there's no need for money - everybody is entitled to take what they need, whether their production warrants it or not. (Good luck with that.)

If you're 90 and you go in a nursing home and you've got $500k saved up, then you can quite well afford to pay your own way and if your kids want to preserve their inheritance they can take care of you themselves. It used to be a point of pride that we paid our bills. In a lyric from about 100 years ago, the St. James Infirmary Blues, a dying man requests, "Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain, so my friends will know I died standing pat." Nowadays, people think why should I rob my own children when I can rob everybody's children? We need first to re-establish the opinion that each of us should pay our way, and then to expose this ridiculous notion that we ARE paying our way.


Another possibility is to raise taxes. I'm not sure why Posner seems to have ruled this out. It is certainly not harder, politically, than altering entitlement programs.

Some may raise concerns that increased taxes would significantly distort the economy, but I doubt that would be true. Social Security is a transfer payment, so it should make little overall difference to the economy whether the budget is balanced by decreasing the consumption of workers (i.e. raising taxes) or decreasing the consumption of retirees (i.e. cutting benefits).

Likewise, shifting health care expenses to the "comfortable" elderly from taxpayers is unlikely to change their pattern of health care consumption - and if it did, then the decision would warrant even more scrutiny.

Thomas Rekdal

I could not agree more with Terry Bennett's comment that our problem is primarily cultural. (I would prefer to call it moral, but that is a minor quibble.) Something fundamental shifted in the 1930s, not merely here but in most of the democratic world. We no longer hold public debt or individual expectations of public support in the same disdain.

I am inclined to think that the change is irreversible. We can all think of measures that might stave off disaster--Judge Posner has suggested them from time to time, means-testing being the most obvious--but none of them are politically feasible.

The most likely outcome is some sort of inter-generational warfare. How long can people under 40 remain content with a working life dedicated to the support of old people? I have no idea.


Tough problem, balancing the books while maintaining the Social Contract. All Societies must and shall be judged by their Social Utility, which are the goods and services that they provide. In this case, care for the Indigent, Infirm and the Elderly. Perhaps the solution is to return to the requirements of the recent past among N.A. Indian Tribes that required the elderly and infirm to disappear into the Widerness to die friendless and alone, lest they become a burden on the Society. Or in Sparta where the infirm were exposed at birth by the "Health Committee" - lest they grow and develop into burdens on the State.

Problems solved, but I doubt that these are solutions to "balancing the books" we would be willing to accept. And so... and don't tell me that "Contract is Dead"...

B Wilds

I predict a third proposal will slowly be looked at and considered. Most people would prefer to live a long life, but not too long. There is nothing wrong with a dignified death after a long life. The mores of America are rapidly changing according to those who only a decade ago thought that gay marriage and gays in the military would never become accepted. Sadly ideas like euthanasia and even discrete breastfeeding in public still drives many Americans crazy. With people living longer and technologies ability to extend a persons life well beyond where they feel it has any "real quality" the issue of euthanasia will not go away. Below is a recently written post about this subject.



One possibility is that of the new attention to rising H/C costs will result in market or regulatory driven efficiencies that constrain the predicted 3% of GDP increase.

On the other hand (economists must have at least two) suppose Medicare and H/C does take a higher percentage of GDP. H/C seems unavoidably a labor intensive industry ------- so! more jobs migrate to the H/C sector. When H/C was a small percentage of GDP, farming, auto and other mfg took a much larger percentage of GDP.

Today's mfg, agriculture and service sectors have become so efficient (with considerable help from other nations) that we seem to have a structural unemployment problem. (How long can "jobless recoveries" last w/o concluding "it's the new normal?"

We'll surely become yet more efficient in all of our sectors but with the labor intensive areas of H/C, teaching, and, of course, lawyering and judging requiring a higher percentage of our labor force.

Posner's last paragraph makes sense, but already SS benefits are taxed away for those with high EARNED income. "Funny thing" that we give more breaks to those with un-earned incomes.

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