Paul Samuelson talks very plainly and sensibly about Social Security and Medicare (via WAPO):
There can be no “rewriting of the social contract” without benefit cuts, because paying today’s benefits inevitably involves much higher taxes, massive deficits or draconian cuts in other government programs. Even with sensible benefit cuts, taxes will have to rise and there will be pressure on other programs.
His advice to the young? Get angry:
What should you — the young — do? First, get angry — at the media and think tanks for discussing this problem in misleading euphemisms (for instance, the problem is not an “entitlements crisis”; it’s excessive benefits for the old); at the candidates for exploiting your innocence; and at yourself for your gullibility.
Next, start picketing AARP. It’s the citadel of seniors’ political power and the country’s most powerful “special interest.” It wields a virtual veto over roughly two-fifths of the federal budget. Your activist groups ought to be there every day with placards reading “Give Us Generational Justice” or “Get Off Our Backs.” Ask direct questions of federal candidates about what benefits they’d cut, which they’d keep and why.
You need to appeal to the shame and guilt of older Americans by reminding them that their present self-absorption is not a victimless exercise. Only if older Americans act on their rhetorical pledges of worrying about their children will the political climate change. If you — the young — don’t stand up for yourselves, believe me, your elders and your politicians won’t.
If there is one thing we learned from the recent credit mess it is that politicians will not address an issue until it is deemed a crisis or if they feel it might impact their re-election prospects. The only way to affect their behavior is to threaten their comfortable positions. As I’ve said before, it is time to get angry and I don’t mean just young people.