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Learning from mistakes

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." – Mark Twain

"There's no such thing as a free lunch." -- Milton Friedman
 
To pick up where we left off after an earlier post on the relationship between numbers of humans on earth and human nature….baby boomers such as we denizens of Redneck Mansion deserve to be roundly criticized for not fixing the Social Security problem--that problem being a greater and greater number of older people living longer and longer lives reaching into the pockets of younger people and taking their stuff.  The entire generation (as well as all those who came between FDR and now) has been a collective Captain Renault:
 

No one should be as surprised as the Austin, TX woman who voted in favor of every municipal expenditure under the sun but then was shocked, SHOCKED to discover that she would be expected to help pay for them:
She ordered a nine course meal and does not want to pay for any of the dishes that showed up after the Gazpacho. When she ordered the whole, entire smorgasbord, she never stopped to ponder how this was actually going to be financed.
Some of what might inelegantly be termed the selfishness and thievery of Social Security recipients since FDR can be forgiven--after all, the program was sold from the get-go as "insurance" and for many years people believed that it was and there are surely some who still do believe it. And it isn't as though you had any choice about paying those taxes. Many of us would have been better off all these decades saving for our own old age and contributing to a pot for those truly needy folks--that's what a safety net is supposed to be. But that would have been hard politically.
 
Anyway, even once it was better understood that Social Security was yet another income redistribution program, there was some reason to keep on playing the game of taking from Peter to pay Paul.  People paid it forward when they were working, supporting the older members of society, and then expected, not unreasonably, that the same would be done for them. 
 
There were essentially two bases for this expectation: 1) the continued growth of the US economy in general, and 2) a sufficient number of American workers with incomes large enough to be able to part with some of that hard-earned brass to support the folks who had come before them without simultaneously impoverishing themselves.
 
Basis #1 isn't happening and hasn't been for the last few years. One way to make sure that the children of baby boomers benefit from a system that at least for now they are forced to pay into is to grow the economy. The current administration doesn't appear to believe that a growing American economy is a good thing although they pay lip service to the idea. The kids of baby boomers are going to have to decide what it is that they want going forward, but for right now the economy is stagnant, even shrinking. Oh, and kids? You may want to take some earlier wisdom into account (emphasis mine):
Q: There are those nasty critics, of course, who suggest that you don't really want to bring [the Labour Party] down at the moment. Life is a bit too difficult in the country, and that ... leave them to sort the mess out and then come in with the attack later ... say next year. 
 
A: I would much prefer to bring them down as soon as possible. I think they've made the biggest financial mess that any government's ever made in this country for a very long time, and Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people's money. It's quite a characteristic of them. They then start to nationalise everything, and people just do not like more and more nationalisation, and they're now trying to control everything by other means. They're progressively reducing the choice available to ordinary people.
That was Margaret Thatcher in a 1976 interview. The more things change... 
 
So that takes us to basis #2.  We can argue 'til the proverbial cows come home about immigration, means testing, and so on as ways of ensuring the continued viability of Social Security but that isn't the point of this post. The point here is simply that the number of American workers available to support the old geezers is shrinking.
 
In fact, no sooner had the earlier numbers-and-nature piece been posted than this appeared:
U.S. fertility is not recovering from the financial crisis — and demographers aren’t sure why….
 
...The consequences of America’s recession baby bust are already significant. “We’re getting to the point where it’s dropped far enough and for a long enough period of time that it’s going to have serious implications” for the population and the economy, Mather said. With declining fertility, the U.S. population would age, and ultimately the labor force would decline as older workers retire — a trend already well underway with the Baby Boom generation reaching their mid-60s.
 
The financial crisis “has had the most punishing impact on demographic trends of anything since the Great Depression,” Johnson said.
That's not to say that people should just close their eyes and think of England solely so as to produce children for their future economic well-being.  But the interesting thing here is that apparently demographers seem to be focused only on economic explanations of people's behavior. To paraphrase Andrew Breitbart, though, everything is downstream of culture. Those demographers just might want to take a peek at the culture. If they did, it might become apparent that Friedman's "free lunch" idea has a broader application than just the obvious economic one.
 
At age 17, George Washington was appointed Surveyor General of Virginia and he was hardly unusual in having adult responsibilities at what we now regard a fairly young age. Indeed, an article a few years ago in the NYT about the long road to adulthood ends thusly:
We have not developed and strengthened institutions to serve young adults,” Mr. Furstenberg said, “because we’re still living with the archaic idea that people enter adulthood in their late teens or early 20s.
Wow. Just wow.
 
Of course, those same people who haven't entered adulthood by their late teens or early 20s can, unfortunately, vote as well as engage in all sorts of activities that are usually regarded as "adult." Hmmmm…..
 
In fact, how many Americans currently in their 20s, 30s, or even 40s have emerged from adolescence and arrived at the conclusion Mark Twain did? Might it be the postponement or complete abandonment of the ideas of marriage and children that makes it seem as though mom and dad are hopeless know-nothings well past the teenage years when one expects such thinking?  
 
That old chestnut, "Honor thy father and thy mother," has been around for at least 3,000 years but the deconstruction of familial roles is just one of the caustic effects of progressivism--and it's happened in a little over a century.  "The purpose of a university should be to make a son as unlike his father as possible," wrote Woodrow Wilson in 1909.  Academia has certainly succeeded in that regard.
 
And what is one result?  An entire cohort of people many of whom eschew marriage and children. There is a cultural cost involved here, not just an economic one.  While the baby boomers and their predecessors may have a lot of faults, in some ways their children and grandchildren may have even more to answer for...for, unless they take a different tack, they run the risk of being parasites who don't transmit culture, don't transmit knowledge, and--even worse than robbing from their own children as the baby boomers have--rob from other people's children. A whole generation is not learning from their parents' mistakes and making short-sighted, self-serving decisions that will come back to bite them in the tuches.
 
Those old fogies that expect 20- and 30- and 40-somethings to have given up membership at Our Lady of Perpetual Adolescence might know a few things and have something to offer.  And those 20- and 30- and 40-somethings might have something to offer to the next generation after them--but first there has to be a next generation.
 
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