Presidential Debate 2012 Will Not Cover the Most Important Issue to Millennials: Entitlements


If you carefully follow public policy you may already know that voting is a tremendous waste of time. Even if it weren't, though, one thing is for certain: the 2012 presidential election is high in the running for least important election of your lifetime. Whether Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, or Vermin Supreme wins in November, you're screwed in January. 

It's a tradition for politicians and do-gooders to let us all know that every fourth November we'll have a chance to vote in the Most Important Election of Our Lives — it's also a tradition to write about this tradition.

The presidential election allegedly offers voters a clear choice between (at least) two distinct paths for our country, but the similarities between the two leading candidates are striking. Conor Friedersdorf wrote a great post about why he could never vote for Obama or Romney based on their stances on drone warfare and civil liberties. Both Romney and Obama, a former cocaine user, have similar positions on the drug war. They have a history of similar health care proposals. They'll both increase spending. The list goes on. 

Obama and Romney also share one other important position that they will never, under any circumstance, deviate from: selling your future to subsidize old people's incomes — old people who are usually a lot wealthier than you are. The median net worth of a household headed by someone 35 or younger was only $9,300 in 2010. For a household headed by someone 75 or older, the median net worth was 2,231 percent higher at $216,800.

There are several reasons for old people to have higher net worth. They've had a lifetime to save, they've developed skills during their long careers that help them earn money. They're often better at managing their assets, and can be less prone to impulsive spending. One other factor leads to this large discrepancy in median net worth: every old person in this country is on welfare. 

Most Americans are eligible for Medicare, which covers most medical costs, once they turn 65. At 65, the federal government cuts a monthly check, the amount of which is somewhat based on past income. Both of these programs pay out until the beneficiary dies (sometimes longer).

Both programs are designed to sound like their legitimate private counterparts. People say things like "I've paid into Social Security my whole life" as if it were an investment account, and the government incorrectly refers to Medicare as health insurance. Both programs, however, are identical to welfare in terms of how they are actually structured. Taxes come in from workers,  and checks go out to old people regardless of how wealthy they might be. There are no accounts, and the money is not invested. The "trust fund" is empty.

Having every old person on welfare might not be such a bad deal for millennials if we could expect to go on the dole once we reach 65, but that isn't the case. Social Security and Medicare are broke. Right now, not in 2037

Someone born in 1990 will be eligible for Social Security, assuming the eligibility age is not changed, in 2055. By that time, the CBO projects that federal spending alone will consume more than half of GDP, with the growth in government due primarily to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest payments on the debt caused by the programs. State and local spending will increase total government spending as a percentage of GDP significantly higher. It's unlikely that we'll ever reach this projected scenario, because it is simply unsustainable. In fact, leading economists of all political persuasions almost unanimously agree that entitlements will have to be slashed and taxes raised on all taxpayers to support this system.

This situation pits the economic interests of millenials against the economic interests of the elderly. Old people outnumber millennials, they vote in droves, and they will all be dead by the time the bill comes due. This allows politicians load young people up with debt without having to face any consequences. That is, as long as millennials keep voting for these same politicians. The only way to waste your vote this November is by giving it to a politician.