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2008-02-04 04:41:14|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Sunday, February 03, 2008
Happy Birthday to Me


My article in today's NY Times.
祝我生日快乐 - 曼昆 - N·格里高利·曼昆的博客

My Birthday Wish: Not Burdening Our Children
Published: February 3, 2008
N·格里高利·曼昆 著

IT’S official. As of today, at 6 a.m.,I am a half-centuryold.
Special thanks go to my mom for bringing me
into the world back in 1958 and for looking after me all theseyears.
But she doesn’t need to worry about me anymore. My welfare nowfalls
within the mission statement of AARP.

不过她现在不用再担心我了。我开始享受AARP(AmericanAssociation of RetiredPeople,美国退休人员协会)的福利了。

David G. Klein
Some years ago, I read on a birthday card that you know you are oldwhen youspend more time thinking about money than sex. If so, weeconomists must age prematurely. After all, it’s our job to thinkabout money, both our own and other people’s. As I reach thisparticular milestone, it is hard not be worried about the economy.No, I am not talking about the subprime meltdown and the possiblerecession that looms on the horizon.


I am confident that the team at the Federal Reserve can containthat problem.Moreover, from the broad vantage point of history, thenext recession,whenever it occurs, will likely be a minor blip. Myguess is that it will be similar to the recession that wasenveloping the economy the day I was born.Don’t remember therecession of 1957-58? Most people don’t.It was a garden-varietyslump — painful to those who lived through it,but short-lived andleaving few lasting scars.
Today it is remembered only by the few experts who crunch thenumbers in thestudy of macroeconomic history. My parents’recession is not my problem, and our next recession will notconcern our children when they reach adulthood.


What worry me are the problems that we will bequeathto our children. Long before I was born, Franklin D.Rooseveltestablished a compact among the generations. Families had longcared for their elderly members, but Roosevelt federalized thatresponsibility in the form of the Social Security system. SocialSecurity is sometimes viewed as a pension plan, but it is mostlypay-as-you-go. The working-age population taxes itself to supportits parents, in the hope and expectation that its children will dothe same. On the day of my birth in 1958, the payroll tax to payfor this program, including both the employer and employee shares,was 4.5 percent.
Around the time I started grade school, Lyndon B.Johnsonexpanded the generational compact to include health care for theelderly. The Medicare system increased the payroll tax, but onlymodestly at first. Health care technology was far more primitiveback then and, as a result, less expensive. By 1968, when, like myyounger son today, I was in third grade, the payroll tax for bothprograms had risen to 8.8 percent. Today, the payroll tax for theseprograms is 15.3 percent, far higher than the programs’ creatorsever imagined.
More worrisome is that this 15.3 percent is nowhere near enough tomaintain solvency in the future. When my generation of baby boomersretires in large numbers and starts claiming benefits, spending onthese programs will far outstrip revenue at the current taxrate.


Two problems are working in concert. The first isdemographic. Because people are having fewer children and livinglonger than past generations, the number of working-age peoplesupporting each elderly person has fallen and will continue tofall.(But I am doing my part to fix this: I have three children.)The second problem is that the cost of health care has risensignificantly and is expected to continue rising. From oneperspective, these problems are really blessings. Life expectancyin the United States has risen by about eight years over mylifetime — a fact that I appreciate more with every passingyear.


Part of this improvement is attributable totechnological advances in medicine, which sadly do not come cheap.But they are worth it nonetheless. I doubt that many people wouldgive up modern health care at today’s prices in exchange for 1958health care at 1958 prices. THE big question for the green-eyeshadecrowd is how to pay for these blessings. It is an issue that nopresidential candidate has taken up in earnest.

candidates are fond of saying we should cut taxrates because doing so would incentivize more rapid economic growth(true) and raise  tax revenue (wishfulthinking).

But unless we figure out a politically acceptable way to reduce thebenefits now promised to future retirees, taxes are going up in thecoming decades. The national debate will have to shift from whichtax cuts do the most good to which tax increases do the leastharm.

Democratic candidates like to talk about expanding the socialsafety net with universal health insurance. But they blithelyignore the fact that the safety net we already have was bought oncredit and that the bill is almost due.The Democrats claim fiscalresponsibility by advocating taxes on the rich,but the numbersdon’t back up the rhetoric.

The campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton, for example, wants to raiseincome taxes for those making more than $200,000 a year. Even bythe campaign’s own reckoning, however, this tax increase wouldbring in only $52 billion a year — a mere one-third of 1 percentof G.D.P. And if higher taxes on society’s most productivemembers
discourage economic growth,even this tiny number is an overestimate.

Inside the Beltway, meanwhile,in a rare outbreak of election-yearbipartisanship,checks are being prepared to send to votersnationwide. If all goes as planned,a few months before the Novemberelections, a typical family of four will get a windfall of $1,800.Whether the economy needs a short-run fiscal stimulus isdebatable.But there’s no doubt the stimulus will add to thenational debt we are passing on to future generations of taxpayers.

My birthday wish is for all of us to stop asking what thegovernment can do for us today.Instead, we should focus on what wecan do together to prepare the economy for our children andgrandchildren. That means getting ready to care more for ourselvesin old age, perhaps by retiring later, perhaps by saving more. Ihope that when I celebrate my 100th birthday in 2058, mydescendants won’t look upon Grandpa and his generation as thebiggest economic problem of their time.

N.Gregory Mankiw is a professor of economics at Harvard. He was anadviser to President Bush and is advising Mitt Romney, the formergovernor of Massachusetts, in the campaign for the Republicanpresidential nomination.
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