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 cpc.grijalva.house.gov) 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 www.boomerdeathcounter.com ) 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.”
And frankly, the future’s looking less attractive by the moment. There are pharmaceutical sales reps and insurance executives out there who are literally drooling right now over the money to be made from us Boomers as we drift into dotage. I am not sure that I really want to be their cash cow—even if it did mean I could watch reruns of “Three’s Company” on a wall-sized 3D screen while munching on Count Chocula to my stented and pacemaker-stimulated heart’s content.
Due to the timing of my birth, I had the completely unmerited good fortune to go through college during that brief, magical time AW/BA (after Woodstock, but before AIDS) and by the same accident of timing, I missed the draft, which ended shortly before I became eligible for service.
This is just to say that I have had more than my share of fun, and given somewhat less than my share of sacrifice. So if leaving early means that my daughter’s future could be a bit less insecure, well, then it’s worthwhile.
So how will I do this? I lack the intestinal fortitude to commit seppuku, and I’m too acrophobic for jumping off bridges—but I most certainly can up my indulgence in certain high-risk behaviors. And I will (seriously, now) be sure that I have all the advance directives in place to ensure that, at the first occurrence of anything even remotely fatal, I shall allowed to go quietly—and quickly—into that good night. When the party’s over, it’s time to leave, particularly if your ride is waiting. Pete Townshend, of course, famously wrote “Hope I die before I get old,” and then forgot to do just that. Wouldn’t it be ironic if doing just that turned out to be our generation’s greatest legacy?