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Die early (a modest proposal)

June 9, 2011

In the battle of words and legislation presently raging in Washington over the problems of the national debt, federal spending, Medicare and Social Security, many questions are being asked, except for the most important one. If I understand the Republicans correctly, a new set of Divine ordinances has been handed down via Grover Norquist and other for-profit prophets. According to these edicts, our options going forward are strictly circumscribed: on the one hand, taxes must never be raised again, on anything or anyone; on the other, the military budget must remain sacrosanct and allowed to expand as much as it damn well pleases. Progressive alternatives such as the “People’s Budget” (see dare not be exposed to the light of day, much less the lights of a major TV news studio or the floors of Congress.

In such circumstances, there’s really only one question to ask: How many Baby Boomers like myself will have to die early—that is, before beginning to draw benefits at age 63 or so—to make the books finally balance and save our economy for our kids, their kids, and, oh yeah, those other kids down the block?

Simple enough question, don’t you think? It’s just a number, after all—somewhere between zero and (according to 76 million or so. Clearly, if all of us Boomers were to survive into the triple digits (and hey, given advances in medical technology, it could happen) the system couldn’t support us all even if we were still earning money from our hospital beds by fielding customer service requests from Mumbai. And if we were all to disappear tomorrow—well, many folks would breathe a sigh of relief at that, wouldn’t they?

Somewhere between those extremes is the right number. Please note that I am not talking about any kind of fascistic “culling” protocol, active euthanasia, or even “Soylent Green”-style protein recycling. My modest proposal is this: we should volunteer. And I shall be happy to be the first to do so. After all, we’ve had a good run of it, haven’t we? Folks of my g-g-g-generation have been blessed by a succession of technological and cultural innovations previously undreamed of in human history, from Twinkies and Rock’em-Sock’em Robots to the Bay City Rollers and “Three’s Company.”