Kids these days

Being a glib economic dilettante, I’m fantastically underwhelmed by arguments that a large cohort of people are behaving against their best interests.  Demonstrated preference is a pretty blunt, uh, instrument, but as a ballpark approximation it seems to do pretty well when n is large.  So when I get a link to Time magazine asking

and claiming that kids these days are voting against their best interests, I’m skeptical.

On the other hand, I love a good generational warfare rant, particularly one that pegs my confirmation bias and concludes that

Americans over the age of 55 who are able to retire under old-fashioned defined-benefit pension plans and who can look forward to keeping their full Social Security benefits should heartily salute the younger generation for their extraordinary generosity.

Generosity, hell.  Nobody asked me if, pretty please out of the goodness of my own heart, I’d underwrite the extraordinarily optimistic entitlements and expenditures being lavished upon the old by my governments.  Some of that “generosity” was extracted under threat of violence, and I suspect the vast majority was simply put on my tab by mendacious asshats who insist that debt doesn’t matter all that much.  Cover that with generous amounts of lube and shove it right up your quivering chocolate starfish.


Here, courtesy of Time‘s fact-checker — take it with a pinch of salt, and inspect that salt for dumbworm eggs before you do — are some numbers to back that up:

When it comes to government finances, the facts are as well known as they are stark. The federal government spends more than seven times as much on someone 65 or older as it does on a child. Even after you include state and local spending on public schools, total spending per person on children is less than half that for the elderly. Over the past decade, the number of children in poverty has soared, and over the rest of this decade, spending on children will shrink by a fifth (as a percentage of total federal spending), while spending on the elderly will swell even more. On the current path, in 25 years Social Security, health-care and interest on accumulated debt would consume all Federal government revenue, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office projections. As a percentage of GDP, all other Federal spending would fall by at least 15%.


Current policies will continue to shift resources from the young to the old. Moreover, these policies are ultimately unsustainable, so that when today’s young people retire, they will not be able to count on full benefits. Without a change in policy, in 40 years Social Security will only be able to pay three-quarters of the payouts that have been promised. The gap cannot be closed by tax increases alone without sizable spending cuts.

(Links in original, mind the dumbworms.)

So why aren’t all post-Boomers deficit hawks?  Maybe it has to do with the fact that most of the continent’s loudest hawkers of deficit hawkishness are movement conservatives, which means that signing on to deficit reduction also means signing on with school prayer, “teaching the controversy” of evolution, ever-escalating Wars On Drugs and Terror, virulent opposition to contraception and gay marriage, and stridently-proclaimed anti-foreign bias.  Party politics is a package deal; you can’t pick and choose.

(It’s flat false that movement conservatives are the only ones opposing gay rights, free trade, relaxed immigration, drug-law relaxation, and police demilitarization.  The centre-left — whatever that means on your side of the 49th — has made a core competency of promising de-escalation and then cranking down on the thumbscrews “more in sorrow than in anger”, although their base does manage to police them on a single issue — see for example DADT — about once every other election.  Don’t try to argue about factis with me in the comments, this is all about verbis.)

Deficit hawkishness also tends to go hand in hand with plain old-fashioned hawkishness, and as the saying goes, old soldiers never die — young ones do.  Furthermore, threats to reinstate the draft pop up with irritating consistency, sort of like this one reported (and handily fisked) by David Henderson:

Ricke, as you might suspect, is the mendacious asshat rattling his goddamn sabre:

In late June, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, called for reinstating the draft. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk,” he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”

This was the first time in recent years that a high-profile officer has broken ranks to argue that the all-volunteer force is not necessarily good for the country or the military. Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system.

Permit me first to direct your attention to that airily thrown-in aside — “so we need to think about how to pay for it”.  Go on, cupcake, find me a way where “paying for it” doesn’t land squarely on the shoulders of the post-Boomers.  Even if we were somehow to manage to create an “equitable draft” — this is my raised eyebrow of skepticism — in which every percentile had “skin in the game”, we’d be left with the dismal situation of everyone wanting an enormous and lavishly-equipped military.  How the trembling fuck would we be able to pay for that and blithely continue handing out Social Security to every bluehair with an entitlement complex?  Spoiler warning: We wouldn’t, but it’d take a lot more public debt for the bond markets to convince us of that fact.

Anyway, this is mostly a generational-warfare post, so I’ll briefly excerpt Henderson’s fisking (though it’s really good and you should RTWT — and don’t stop before you get through at least the first half of the comment thread, there’s good stuff to be found there!):

Finally, although Ricks doesn’t say it in the op/ed (although he comes close in the last paragraph), I think Ricks’s argument, and McChrystal’s, is essentially that when the rich and powerful have their kids drafted, they’ll suddenly start paying critical attention to foreign policy. I used to accept this argument. That didn’t make me favor the draft because I always thought it was profoundly unfair–even uncivilized–to put millions of innocent people in involuntary servitude so that their parents would become politically active.

(Emphasis added.)

We’ll call that idea a “nudge”, shall we?  Soft paternalism?  After all, the state isn’t forcing the parents of draftees to become politically active, only giving them some extra incentive to do so.  Something tells me the Pigou Club would not approve.

Finally, some of you are squirming back and forth in your seats, waiting for me to get to the end of this post so you can mention a certain politician’s name in the comments.  (I can see you from here!)  Don’t worry, guys, I got your back: Ron Fucking Paul.  Hawkish on the deficit and doveish on most everything else — and funnily enough he’s rather popular with the young’uns.  Pity he went anti-gay in the Iowa caucuses and horrendously mishandled the racist-newsletters debacle.


3 Responses to “Kids these days”

  1. 1 John
    July 11, 2012 at 04:09

    Gary Johnson is the sane version of Ron Paul, and he doesn’t carry all that baggage either. I’m kind of shocked at the cult of Ron Paul with the younger set to be honest. I’ll probably be voting for Johnson this November. Not that it’ll make a difference, but at least I’ll be able to sleep better at night.

    • July 11, 2012 at 12:36


      Also, I was going to mention, I’m pretty sure the LP gets you deficit hawkishness, without regular hawkishness, and all that prayer in school anti-gay war-on-some-drugs crap the serious ultra-conservatives bring to the table.

      And, as long as we’re playing generational warfare: I say kill Social Security and Medicare dead dead dead. Those old fuckers all voted before I was born to put me in chains to pay for their retirements and medical expenses, then ran up every other national credit card we had too. So I say fuck ’em. You make a deal with the Devil, don’t come crying to me when you end up in Hell.

      • July 12, 2012 at 00:03

        Gary Johnson is indeed the cat’s ass, the mutt’s nuts, and everything else — not least because his name is remarkably close to Garey & Johnson, my favourite NP Completeness textbook. I would dearly love to live in a world in which the LP is anything more than a political punchline — and I might in fact live in such a world in November, if the 3% that seem to support Johnson and the LP in one or two polls actually turn out that way and swing the election. But I’m not going to count on it.

        Either way I’m embarrassed that I missed Johnson in the original post; thanks for correcting me.

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