This Election Will Come Down to Whether Today’s Older Middle Aged and Elderly People Want to Screw Over Tomorrow’s Older Middle Aged and Elderly People

There’s really no other way to put it, although for many, retiring in a few years isn’t really an option. I’m usually not one for ‘generation wars’, especially since they usually involve stereotypes that are used to disparage entire groups (e.g., the Gen-X/Slacker stereotype was used to cruise past the fact that the early 1990s were the worst job market for college grades in twenty-five years and were only eclipsed by the Collapse of Big Shitpile in 2008). But sometimes it is worth taking a generational view. First, consider this figure:


If you look at income by age cohort since from 2000 – 2011, you’ll notice that only one groups has increased its income: retirees (≥65). All others have been crushed in the downturn. That’s an effect of policy: this groups will benefit disproportionately from the dramatically lowered tax rates on carried interest and other financial market friendly policies, and for many retirees, Social Security is a large part of their income (obviously, many are still not ready for retirement).

I would argue this is a result of conservative political strategy to help their base. Romney-Ryan are doubling down:

A Republican strategist said something interesting and revealing on Friday, though it largely escaped attention in the howling gusts of punditry over Mitt Romney’s birth certificate crack and a potential convention-altering hurricane. The subject was a Ron Brownstein story outlining the demographic hit rates each party requires to win in November. To squeak out a majority, Mitt Romney probably needs to win at least 61 percent of the white vote — a figure exceeding what George H.W. Bush commanded over Michael Dukakis in 1988. The Republican strategist told Brownstein, “This is the last time anyone will try to do this” — “this” being a near total reliance on white votes to win a presidential election.

…the Republican Party had grown intensely conscious of both the inescapable gravity of the long-term relative decline of the white population, and the short-term window of opportunity opened for the party by the economic crisis. I think we’re continuing to see the GOP operate under an integrated political and policy strategy constructed on this premise. This is their last, best chance to win an election in the party’s current demographic and ideological form. Future generations of GOP politicians will have to appeal to nonwhite voters who hold far more liberal views about the role of government than does the party’s current base.

But that’s not the cynical part, this is (boldface mine):

Blowing up the welfare state and affecting the largest upward redistribution of wealth in American history is a politically tricky project (hence Romney’s belief that he may need to forego a second term). Hence the Romney campaign’s clear plan to suture off its slowly declining but still potent base. Romney’s political-policy theme is an unmistakable appeal to identity politics. On Medicare, Romney is putting himself forward as the candidate who will outspend Obama, at least when it comes to benefits for people 55 years old and up. Romney will restore the $700 billion in Medicare budget cuts imposed by Obama to its rightful owners — people who are currently old.

He will cut subsidies to the non-elderly people who would get insurance through Obamacare — a program that, Romney’s ads remind older voters, is “NOT FOR YOU.”

…the immense popularity of the largest, middle-class social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security force them into the divide-and-conquer gambit. They can promise to hold their disproportionately old, white base harmless and impose the entire brunt of their ambitious downsizing of government on young, poor, and disproportionately nonwhite Democratic constituencies.

There’s no moral or policy rationale for Romney’s proposal to increase social safety net spending on current retirees while cutting Pell Grants, Medicaid, children’s health insurance, and food stamps to shreds.

Like I mentioned, judging people based on stupid cultural identifiers is, well, stupid, and also usually hides something important. But in this case, Romney-Ryan really are pitting the elderly and older middle-aged white vote against everyone else.

The question then becomes: will they be willing to leave the country in worse shape for those who will come after them? Sadly, I think too many will want to do so. Pulling up the ladder behind you seems to be all the rage.

We’re not asking for the Greatest Generation, just not a Miserable One.

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