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the $34T problem

Monday,  03/17/08  10:53 PM

Want something to worry about?  How about this: The $34 Trillion Problem.  Hint: it's Medicare.

This is the elephant in the room; amid all the petty talk of race and who said this and who said that, none of the candidates are talking about this problem, and it is the most important one we face.  "An analysis of their speeches shows that last year Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama would occasionally mention the Medicare mess. But recently, with the economy slowing and voters feeling insecure, all three candidates have turned more populist: Their economic talking points are about feel-good reassurances, not about facing hard realities."  This is going to be the most important problem the next President will face, more important than Iraq, more important than immigration, and certainly more important than the petty crap which dominates today's headlines.  Tough decisions must be made, we cannot continue as we have.

This is closely related to the problems with any kind of universal healthcare, by the way; in fact, Medicare is a sort of universal healthcare, except it isn't universal.  However it does have the same flavor, of everyone paying for everyone else, instead of each person paying for themselves.  Such programs are always subject to a tragedy of the commons, and having them run by government ensures inefficiency.  But we can't just abolish Medicare altogether (or can we?), we have to replace it with something else, something that costs less and provides solid insurance for retirees.  This should be a subject of active debate, instead, it is taboo.

The only thing worse than talking about a $34 trillion problem is not talking about it.