Looking for some perspective on the health care issue, currently on the table in the U.S. Congress? John C. Goodman, President and CEO at the National Center for Policy Analysis received his Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University, and has taught and done research at Columbia University, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, Southern Methodist University and the University of Dallas. He writes regularly for such newspapers as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Investor’s Business Daily and the Los Angeles Times, and is the author of nine books, including Patient Power: The Free-Enterprise Alternative to Clinton’s Health Plan and Lives at Risk: Single-Payer National Health Insurance Around the World.
Goodman wrote a helpful overview essay for Imprimis this past March. An excerpt:
Prior to the 20th century, we handled risks with the help of family and extended family. In the 19th century, by the time a child was nine years old, he was usually paying his own way in the household. In effect, children were their parents’ retirement plan. But during the 20th century, families became smaller and more dispersed—thus less useful as insurance against risk. So people turned to government for help. In fact, the main reason why governments throughout the developed world have undergone such tremendous growth has been to insure middle class families against risks that they could not easily insure against on their own. This is why our government today is a major player in retirement, health care, disability and unemployment.
Government, however, has performed abysmally. It has spent money it doesn’t have and made promises it can’t keep, all on the backs of future taxpayers. The Trustees of Social Security estimate a current unfunded liability in excess of $100 trillion in 2009 dollars. This means that the federal government has promised more than $100 trillion over and above any taxes or premiums it expects to receive. In other words, for Social Security to be financially sound, the federal government should have $100 trillion—a sum of money six-and-a-half times the size of our entire economy—in the bank and earning interest right now. But it doesn’t. And while many believe that Social Security represents our greatest entitlement problem, Medicare is six times larger in terms of unfunded obligations. These numbers are admittedly based on future projections. But consider the situation in this light: What if we asked the federal government to account for its obligations the same way the private sector is forced to account for its pensions? In other words, if the federal government suddenly closed down Social Security and Medicare, how much would be owed in terms of benefits already earned? The answer is $52 trillion, an amount several times the size of the U.S. economy.
What does this mean for the future? We know that Social Security and Medicare have been spending more than they are taking in for quite some time. As the Baby Boomers start retiring, this deficit is going to grow dramatically. In 2012, only three years from now, Social Security and Medicare will need one out of every ten general income tax dollars to make up for their combined deficits. By 2020—just eleven years down the road—the federal government will need one out of every four income tax dollars to pay for these programs. By 2030, the midpoint of the Baby Boomer retirement years, it will require one of every two income tax dollars. So it is clear that the federal government will be forced either to scale back everything else it’s doing in a drastic way or raise taxes dramatically.
Read the whole thing.