No, I don’t hate old people

Which you might think, after a recent post.  What I hate is our political system kowtowing to any particular group.  And we bend way over backwards to avoid upsetting older voters.  The reason is obvious, as this graph of voting turnout by age clearly shows:

That said, I think Matt Yglesias makes a really important point here.

Whenever you see plans to trim entitlement spending, the norm is to assume that everyone over the age of 55 should be exempted from any cuts. The point I raised with her is that this serves to totally undermine any arguments from generational equity that one might want to make. She then pointed out to me that we don’t apply this standard in any other budgetary context. When cash-strapped states cut Medicaid for the poor they do it immediately and without warning in just the way that it’s allegedly impossible to do for Medicare.

Is that a kind way to treat people? Of course not. But insofar as a time will come when the budgetary situation does in fact require immediate cuts in something, I don’t think there’s any reason to think old people should be categorically exempt from the pain.

Yglesias makes the point that it is just a given to assume that older Americans should never feel any pain in entitlement reform.  On its face, that’s ridiculous, but somehow its become completely ingrained bipartisan political doctrine.  Of course, as long as that graph above looks that way (which it always will), we’ll have to live with this.  When I’m a grandfather (and with 4 kids, I damn well better be), I plan on voting in my grandkids’ long-term interest and not my short-term interest.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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