“The basic conflict posed by the budget is not between rich and poor but between workers and retirees”

by Ryan Streeter on February 16, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Robert Samuelson has faithfully tried to focus attention on the U.S. budget deficit and its main culprits – entitlement programs – for a long time. He wishes our politicians had the candor to speak honestly and openly in public about the problem. He writes:

The basic conflict posed by the budget is not between rich and poor but between workers and retirees. Present policy favors retirees over workers — the past over the present and future — because, politically, tampering with benefits is off-limits. The rest of government absorbs the fiscal consequences of an aging population.

But our politicians can’t speak candidly about this. Why?

Candor would compel clarity. Why do we have budget deficits? The main reason is a fundamental mismatch between what the public wants from government and what it is willing to pay in taxes.

The result, then, is less capacity for fixing things politicians bemoan and usually blame the opposite party for – such as aging roads and bridges, less money for R&D, and inadequate safety net programs – when their unwillingness to face the music on the budget is the more likely cause of inaction.  The status quo is unsustainable in the long run:

Current policy is for most discretionary programs to do more with less — a formula for ultimate failure. The squeeze in any one year is small; the cumulative effect is huge.