Runaway spending on the elderly shortchanges us all

Comes now economist Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, with another view of government spending on the elderly. People like me have complained for years that government is too generous, especially toward the affluent elderly. This largesse, we argue, shortchanges the young. Not so, says Burtless.

The crucial question, says Burtless, is whether “rising outlays on programs for the aged will squeeze out spending on programs for children, especially investments in their schooling.” If so, stingier policies for the elderly can be justified “to make room for spending on the young.” The case is way oversold, Burtless says.

I have two problems with his analysis. First, although K-12 spending hasn’t yet dropped significantly, there are signs we may be at a turning point. Second — and more important — our subsidies for the elderly threaten more than schools. They’re crowding out most other governmental activities, from defense to the non-elderly safety net. Popular government (Social Security and Medicare have huge support) is penalizing good government.

– The Washington Post

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