old but not poor? watch your back.

Two New York Times editorials this week have me gnashing my teeth. Columnist David Brooks thinks the best way to nurture investment would be to “take spending that currently goes to the affluent elderly and redirect it to the young and the struggling.” He cites policymaker Yuval Levin’s proposal to means-test Medicare proposal, which would reduce benefits to olders with higher lifetime earnings.


I liked New Yorker Reba Shimansky’s sharp rebuttal in her Letter to the Editor:  

“I am a working-class senior, but I reject means-testing Medicare and directing that savings to children and infrastructure. Medicare is an insurance program, not a welfare program. If Mr. Brooks wants to finance children’s programs and infrastructure, there are other ways to do it, like raising taxes on the wealthy, corporations and Wall Street; raising the capital gains tax; eliminating carried interest; eliminating subsidies to oil companies and agriculture; and cutting military spending. I am fed up with this war against the elderly by the mainstream media.”


Zero-sum reasoning that pits the old against the young should always be challenged. This us-or-them logic always pops us around health-care rationing: we should spend money on kids instead of wasting it on people who’re going to die soon anyway. “Can you imagine a similar public debate based on race or sex?” asks Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity. “Yet we have these discussions freely about age.”Resources are not inherently scarce: the United States spends more on defense than all the other nations of the world combined. This “scarcity” is the result of policy decisions in a society whose oldest citizens are demeaned and disregarded. 


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