From "Macroeconomics" by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells is a/k/a Mrs. Paul Krugman
Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect... In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker's incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of "Eurosclerosis," the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.
"Well, basically we have a world-class budget deficit not just as in absolute terms of course – it’s the biggest budget deficit in the history of the world – but it’s a budget deficit that as a share of GDP is right up there. It’s comparable to the worst we’ve ever seen in this country. It’s biggest than Argentina in 2001. Which is not cyclical, there’s only a little bit that’s because the economy is depressed. Mostly it’s because, fundamentally, the Government isn’t taking in enough money to pay for the programs and we have no strategy of dealing with it. So, if you take a look, the only thing that sustains the US right now is the fact that people say, ‘Well America’s a mature, advanced country and mature, advanced countries always, you know, get their financial house in order,’ but there’s not a hint that that’s on the political horizon, so I think we’re looking for a collapse of confidence some time in the not-too-distant future."
"Generous benefits for the elderly are feasible as long as there are relatively few retirees compared with the number of taxpaying workers — which is the current situation, because the baby boomers swell the workforce. In 2010, however, the boomers will begin to retire. Every year thereafter, for the next quarter-century, several million 65-year-olds will leave the rolls of taxpayers and begin claiming their benefits.
The budgetary effects of this demographic tidal wave are straightforward to compute, but so huge as almost to defy comprehension. Mr. Peterson, the chairman of the Blackstone Group, a private investment bank, informs us that ”the combined Federal cost of Social Security and Medicare, expressed as a share of workers’ taxable payroll, is officially projected to rise from the already burdensome 17 percent in 1995 to between 35 and 55 percent in 2040. And this figure does not include the many other costs — from nursing homes to civil service and military pensions — that are destined to grow along with the age wave.”
But aren’t Social Security and Medicare basically pension funds, in which workers’ contributions are invested to provide for their retirement? Hardly. A private pension fund that planned to pay the benefits these programs promise would be accumulating huge reserves. In fact, the so-called ”trust funds” are making barely any provisions for the future. In another spectacular statistic, Mr. Peterson notes that if Medicare and Social Security had to obey the same rules that apply to private pensions, the reported Federal deficit this year would be not its official $150 billion, but roughly $1.5 trillion.What did the old Paul Krugman think of Peterson’s proposals to rein in costs and raise the age of eligibility for federal entitlements? He called them “sensible:”
In short, the Federal Government, however solid its finances may currently appear, is in fact living utterly beyond its means. While the present generation of retirees is doing very nicely, the promises that are being made to those now working cannot be honored.
Both Mr. Morris and Mr. Peterson offer plans to avert the crisis ahead. The details differ, and Mr. Peterson’s proposal is more completely fleshed out, but the general thrust is clear: slow the growth in benefit levels, gradually raise the retirement age, impose limits on expensive terminal medical care that prolongs life for only weeks or days and — last but not least — raise taxes moderately now, rather than massively later. We need not dwell on their sensible proposals, however, because there is not the slightest prospect that they will be put into effect — or indeed that we will do anything serious about the looming crisis until it is almost upon us.