The Real Conundrum

Philosophically, when all the “clutter issues” like the “War on Women” or “War on Religion” are pushed aside, the primary ideological difference between liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans, boils down to the size and intrusiveness of the federal government.

This is not to diminish the power of “clutter issues” by any stretch.  Ask any Republican today who ran a campaign on legitimate rape or birth control – they lost specifically on these issues.  This is why I shook my head every time I heard a candidate say this election is about jobs and the economy, then proceed to discussing abortion and religious views.

But at the far end of the day, the question remains, what size and scope of power do we expect our government to have?  Conservatives made their argument – rather ineffectively I might add – that allowing government purview of health care is an egregious intrusion far beyond the scope as defined by the constitution.  Conservatives see our government as an enemy to individual liberty based on the public reliance for basic goods and services – to include Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Affordable Health Care, Unemployment benefits, food stamps, etc., etc.  This reliance on the government for sustenance is antithetical to individual freedom and liberty.

Liberals and progressives on the other hand, have an expectation that government step in to offer protections for the citizenry in a cold and calculating capitalist economy.  Where citizens, through no fault of their own, fall victim to bottom-line lay-offs, or have benefits such as health care cut as their employers can no longer afford them.  This is the fundamental necessity for the role of government to expand the social safety net to insure vast swaths of the populace do not get swept under during economic downturns.

These ideas may not have been at the forefront of the 2012 election, but ultimately, this is the fundamental question we are asked to decide upon every four years.  Here is why we need to answer this question once and for all and move on.

The 20th century America we knew is over.  Economic drivers, certainty in employment, benefits, and retirement are a thing of the past.

Obama’s reelection all but ensures the Affordable Health Care Act will be implemented and enshrined into the entitlement structure of the government, taking its place alongside Medicare and Social Security.  Having said that, none of these programs have ever been popular among conservatives; each is seen as increasing citizenry dependence upon the government.

Ultimately, the entitlement state – so hated by conservatives – is with us to stay.

The Washington Post published an article on 5 November that highlights the necessity for government intrusion.

“As it is, most workers are vastly underprepared for retirement. Although coverage is near universal among the small minority of workers employed in the public sector, just over two in five private-sector workers between ages 25 and 64 are covered by pensions or 401(k)-type retirement plans in their current jobs, according to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. On average, workers in their prime working years have a retirement funding gap of $90,000 per household, the center has found. The share of workers covered by traditional pensions has been dwindling since the 1980s, and now the plans are a cherished rarity for young workers.”

So here is the stark, hard reality – the vast majority of workers under 30 have no real retirement benefit.  The vast majority of workers over 30 have under-funded retirement.  It should be noted that in the 2012 election, the margin of 18-29 year olds broke for Obama nearly 2 to 1. HP

This is a demographic trend of nightmare proportions for conservatives and one that will ultimately break the Republican party as it currently stands.  Older white people, a core constituency of the GOP, will not be there in 20-30 years to keep them propped up.  Younger people are overwhelmingly self-identifying with the Democratic party.  Margaret Hoover, a GOP operative, noted that voters that start off by voting for the same party through three elections cycles tend to identify with that party the rest of their lives – which bodes well for democrats and ill for Republicans.

So there are two convergent issues that are meeting in the nadir of GOP navel gazing.  Young voters, sans retirement and employer benefits, siding with a democrat president that, in the minds of conservatives, represents the worst of the entitlement state.

What it means is that Social Security may be reformed, but will not be done away with.  As of today, Social Security is the sole income of 40% of Americans 65 and older – a number that is sure to double in the next 30 years – especially when a full crop of American workers are marching toward retirement without a pension plan.

While it may be a critique of sorts to blame capitalism for the erosion of benefits in the employer-employee relationship, the bottom line is profit margin accountable only to shareholders.  When every quarterly report is the difference between surviving and sinking, money invested in employee benefits is negotiable.

“Blue-chip corporate giants such as IBM and Verizon are among those that have closed their traditional pension plans to new workers in order to limit future liabilities.” WP

So in an economy where nothing beyond your salary is guaranteed, there are only two sustainable models.  Either work until you die or rely on the government for defined benefits that were previously provided by employers.  In today’s economy, private businesses and even state and local governments are rethinking their strategies for dealing with employee benefits – it’s time the government did the same.  Conservatives may be finding that the decision has already been made and there is no turning back.

Now the question as to how we pay for it is still out there – but the fact we are and will be an entitlement nation can no longer be denied, and there is no going back.  What next America?

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