When my daughter announced that she’d received a small scholarship for the college of her choice, and that I’d pay for the remainder, I had two simultaneous thoughts: I can’t afford it, and it has to be done. Decades ago, When America began providing guaranteed income and medical care for the elderly, we faced the same dilemma: We can’t afford it, and it has to be done. At the time, Republicans dutifully warned of the cost, pointing out that entitlement programs for the elderly would grow out of control. They were right. Costs for Medicare and Social Security spiraled, probably more from the sheer fact that our population is aging, rather than mismanagement, but is that the whole story? Not really. The real story is that America did the right thing. We took proper care of the men and women who made sure the world wasn’t ruled by Nazis, who built our highways and schools and factories, who gave us TV and movies and modern medicine. The cost for such humanitarian extravagance was – and indeed continues to be – breathtaking, but in the end, that doesn’t matter. We’re a civilized nation, and we don’t let our seniors spend their final years in Dickensian squalor.
But there’s more. America has just decided that we won’t let citizens hit by catastrophic illness wither away out of sight. We won’t tolerate breadlines and homeless shelters for people who need appendix surgery when they find themselves in between jobs. We decided that such indifference is not American, and for such a decision, we should be right proud of ourselves. So can we afford to offer such a benefit to our citizens? Perhaps not. Is Obama fibbing when he says all this can be done fairly cheaply? Almost certainly he is. We can hope that having a healthier working force will lead to increased worker productivity, which in turn, will decrease budget deficits. And yes, America enjoyed a Clinton-era budget surplus after the dark, recession-ridden years of Bush Sr, but there’s no guarantees we’ll see that again. Honestly, my guess is that we younger people will get 70 cents for every dollar we put into these dubious national kitties, and probably less. Of course I’m not pleased, but I don’t want to live in a country that lets its citizens just go off in a corner and die. So with apologizes to Guns ‘n Roses, this is not “the Jungle,” it’s America, and I’d prefer to remain proud of it, even if it means less money in my pocket.
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