I've noticed an uptick in the idea on the left that the federal government should shift its spending from seniors to kids. Some progressives friendly to the Obama admin have written on this, e.g. Ezra Klein and Kevin Drum. Some on this site have mentioned that they believe we should be willing to look at cuts to spending on the elderly to focus more dollars on, for example, funding universal preschool.
Klein's recent post "Feds spend $7 on elderly for every $1 on kids" is representative, with graphs like:
In some cases, this spending pattern is taken to support cutting Social Security by reducing how it measures inflation or perhaps raising the eligibility age for medicare, both of which are proposals that the Obama admin. has reportedly put on the table many times in budget negotiations with the GOP.
Here are the main problems with this line of thought as I see it:
* First, there is no deal on the table to directly trade some spending on programs for the elderly with spending on kids. There is only cuts to SS and medicare being seriously discussed, and there's absolutely no reason to believe that these will be traded for anything other than keeping tax rates on wealthy parties low.
* For SS, the US already has the stingiest retirement benefits system in the developed world and people are merely getting back what they paid into the system. In fact, the average recipient is currently getting less on average than she paid in. As Dean Baker points out, giving people their own money back is like saying the Fed Gov is spending vast amounts on holders of Treasuries rather than children. On the contrary, they're just getting their returns.
* For medicare, much of the spending isn't directly benefiting the elderly. The Fed government is paying twice as much as any other country to our doctors, drug companies, hospitals and other parties for health care. A lot of this spending over and above what medicare recipients pay in to the system is going to overpaid health care providers, not the elderly.
* Cutting social security and raising the retirement age will encourage older people to retire later which will mean fewer jobs for our youth.
* Finally, the central problem in the country's economic system, and which the federal government should be seeking to correct, is the aggregation of wealth at the top. The only reason the richest country in the history of the world isn't providing decent basic services to its citizens of all ages is because the US is plagued with a rapacious wealthy class that wants all of the country's wealth for itself. Ginning up inter-generational conflicts that distract from the actual class war being waged by the wealthy isn't going to help improve basic services for kids or anyone else. That's only going to be achieved if there's organization, cooperation, trust, and a rededication to the public good by as many people of all ages in this country as possible.