Democracy’s Challenge

There are many elements of society and government that the USA shares with Singapore.  These include –

  • rule of law
  • common language – English
  • high value on higher education
  • broad home ownership as a way to promote strong middle class
  • open financial system

And Singapore argues for its form of democracy.  The last election here, for the first time, an opposition party won all the seats in an entire ward.  But for the most part the democracy here is rule by a single party.  And this allows Singapore to make decisions that many times may not be popular but are practical and logical.

In the USA right now there is intense debate about how to reduce the national government budget deficit.  In this debate there is wringing of hands about so many ways to cut defense, to cut education.  But if you could ask anyone in Washington behind closed doors they all know how it can be done and be done fairly.

You must strongly cut entitlements – social security, medicare, medicade.  Why here?  Because these are the largest elements of the budget.  The way to make the cuts is also clear.  You re-adjust the retirement ages, the ages for different payouts from the system and you limit the payouts on the medical side on a per person basis for their lifetime.

Simple put, people live much longer today than when the system was set up.  Perhaps on average another 15-20 years.  But we have kept the structure the same in spite of this huge demographic shift.  If we raised the retirement age to 72 from 62-65 it would mean that our citizens pay into the system for another 7 years and take out 7 years less.  The financial impact of this shift is massive.

Same with medical payments in medicare and medicade.  We now spend more on the last few years of life than we do on the first 20 years.  So we are investing more in the dying than the education of our young people.  To fix this we have to agree that at some point we will not do everything possible to prolong life, at least not with taxpayer dollars.  We cannot afford it.

But in both of these cases we can now see the problem.  It is easier for politicians to destroy their opponents who favor such changes by labeling them killers of the old, breakers of a promise that has stood for decades.  And so get elected.  Today both Republicans and Democrats refuse to take these steps because they know the outcome.

And now we find ourselves competing with “democracies” in Asia where such decisions are made differently.  They are made by single party systems where it is possible to take the politically difficult but economically essential steps.

I wonder if the case can be made that as democracies mature and offer their citizens broad and committed input to the system and its future, if at that moment they are opening the door to the long term problem of the citizens of today using this same political system to pay themselves benefits and rob future generations of theirs.  It is politically possible and convenient to do just this.

Which approach is best?  Still not clear.  But it is clear that in the USA we are using the political process to borrow now to pay our selves and to stick the bill with future generations who we have under educated and under funded just to keep the current generation alive for a few extra months.

Ouch.

Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Singapore Incubator, Spiritual Threads

  1. Michael Hay says:

    Frank,

    The change to the entitlement system that you mention must be done. The only thing USA citizens are entitled to are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are compromising are most important freedoms for a government check that comes from borrowed money. This borrowed money may be coming from governments that are hostile towards are true freedoms. This is sad and scary that we are selling out what is by far the most important to us.

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