The Baby Boom and Financial Doom

To rightsize spending, entitlement programs must be reformed

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Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

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Peterson is the wrong target for liberals. Since the 1980s, he has spent most of his political energy attacking his fellow Republicans for their allergy to taxes. He came to prominence as a deficit hawk in 1982, when he wrote a long essay on Social Security for the New York Review of Books; he later wrote a cover story for the Atlantic in 1987. When Ronald Reagan was at the height of his popularity, Peterson ridiculed supply-side economics, knowing full well that this made him--a former Secretary of Commerce--toxic for any higher Republican office.

"I want to strengthen the safety net for the poor. But to do so, we have to reform entitlements, because they are simply not sustainable in their current form," Peterson says. "The elderly population is doubling, and health care costs are rising rapidly." His foundation is making the control of health care costs its No. 1 priority. "But we need to start making changes soon, because the longer we wait, the more painful will be the eventual changes," he says.

In an important essay, "The Long Term Is Now," William Galston, a former Clinton official, tries to face up to the budgetary crisis being produced by demographics. He proposes a rethinking of long-term care--which eats up a huge part of the budgets of Medicare and Medicaid--but in a way that doesn't unendingly eat up government revenue. That's the kind of innovation and reform the left should bring to the entitlement problem. Shooting the messenger doesn't help.


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