In The Land Of “What, Me Worry?”

A parody of one of those inspirational workplace signs goes like this. The rectangular sign says — Plan Ahead. But the last several letters are scrunched up next to the right margin because the sign designer failed to plan ahead.

This is our present situation as a country in microcosm. There are all sorts of looming problems that might be addressed in a timely, plodding, responsible way, but no. We wait until the last minute and then try to solve a problem that has, by then, gotten much worse and will be much harder and more expensive to solve.

Ebola is a small current example, We now learn that the path to a vaccine seemed straightforward years ago, but so few people were affected that it didn’t seem worth the effort commercially. It didn’t afflict wealthy western countries so there was no political impetus to spend tax dollars on devising the cure. And apparently Bill and Melinda were occupied elsewhere.

So nothing was done, and now fools and blowhards, including several governors and senatorial candidates, are running around hysterically proposing draconian quarantines and bans and blaming others for being asleep at the switch. Everything except rationally planning and funding a long term solution. Because even if the current scary spread is checked, the disease will reemerge.

Similarly, I note with amusement that some jurisdictions in southern Florida now seem to have awakened to the threat posed by climate change. The aha moment seems to have come when streets began to be full of water on an increasing number of days per annum. Suddenly it was borne in upon the locals that a three-foot rise in sea level over the next 75 years might just be bad for business and property values, since a lot of the state will be submerged.

But for most of those in power, the issue of climate change remains of no interest. It is treated like a myth because the prophesied disaster remains too far off in time to constitute a threat to their reelection or profits, so why act now? Washington is where one may see the fable of the grasshopper and the ant enacted daily. Except there are no ants.

My baby boomer generation has lived with this kind of unpreparedness since birth. Our numbers were a surprise and knocked everything out of kilter from the outset. I grew up in a small town near a big city that slowly turned into a suburb as it went from a population of about 10,000 when i was born to about 30,000 by the time I finished high school.

The town was slow to build new elementary schools, so in the fifth grade many of us were transferred to an abandoned old school that had to be hastily reopened. The existing elementary schools could no longer accommodate all the kids from K to 6. Parents of the those shunted to the crumbling, old, two-story Central School were outraged. They paid tax dollars for spanking new modern schools, yet their kids were in this aging relic. We actually loved it with its stairs and nooks and crannies and wooden floors. it had more character.

Still, you’d think by this point the demographic bulge would have become obvious and produced, not just some planning in response, but some action. But as late as high school, sixteen years after the boom began, the place was still so packed that, for instance, the only way the cafeteria could cope with the crush was to start serving lunch at 10:30 and cycling a new horde through every 20 minutes until a final feeding around 2:00. Eventually the district was divided into two, and a second rival high school opened. But it was years too late.

Now that the boomers are old fuds, it has suddenly dawned on our elected representatives that Social Security and Medicare have been promised to a whole lot of people who vote in large numbers. But of course this has been obvious for at least 50 years since the baby boom ended in 1964. They thought we wouldn’t show up? Or thought they could stiff us when we did, and we’d be too senile to notice?

No, they thought planning ahead would have made it clear that a long term investment would be required, along with long lasting pain for taxpayers. That in turn might dim their re-election prospects. Sane people have warned of the coming crunch since at least the Reagan administration, but by then an ideology exalting the short term over the long, tax cuts over tax increases, and individual liberty over shared responsibility held sway This makes prudent action impossible.

The preferered solution now is to let the boomers get their benefts but deny them to anyone younger. Great plan, except that generation is the one being taxed to pay for us to get the same benefits they will be denied. They won’t notice the shell game? Good luck with that. In fact, since they are our kids, we will probably tell them they are being had.

Meanwhile, we await the economic cataclysm that every one knows is inevitable amid rising waters and weird tropical diseases. Just-in-time delivery may work for auto parts, but as a method for addressing large social problems, its insane. This unbusinesslike feckless is particularly ironic coming from representatives of an establishment that used to counsel hard work, deferred gratification and frugality. They would heap scorn on shiftless, bohemian hippies. Yet now even Wall Street and Main Street sing along to a ‘60s anthem:

Sha la la la
Live for today,
And don’t worry
’bout tomorrow,
Hey hey hey.

Comments are closed.