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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/14/15

DIE EARLY (A Modest Proposal)

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Message Skip Mendler
Things they do look awful cold
Hope I die before I get old

--Pete Townsend, "My Generation"

In the battles of words and legislation raging in Washington over the problems posed by the budget, including Federal spending, our national debt, Medicare, and Social Security, many difficult questions are being asked -- except, perhaps, for the most important one.
Elderly people
Elderly people
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If I understand the GOP position correctly, our options going forward are strictly circumscribed: on the one hand, taxes must never ever ever be raised again, on anyone or anything; on the other, the military budget must remain sacrosanct and allowed to expand as much as it damn well pleases. More progressive alternatives dare not be exposed to the light of day, much less the lights of a major TV news studio or the floors of Congress. Meanwhile, we Baby Boomers are living longer & longer lives. The result: future funding levels for the so-called "entitlement programs" like Social Security and Medicare are said to be at risk.

In such circumstances, it seems to me, there's really only one question left to ask: How many of us Baby Boomers would have to "Die Early" (that is, before drawing benefits) to make the books finally balance?

Simple enough question, right? The answer is just a number, after all -- somewhere between zero and 76 million or so. Clearly, if all of us Boomers were to survive into the triple digits (and hey, given advances in medical technology, it could happen) the system couldn't support us all -- even if we were still earning money from our hospital beds by fielding customer service requests from Mumbai or remotely operating greeter robots for the Kinshasa WalMart. And if we were all to disappear tomorrow... well, many folks would breathe a sigh of relief at that, wouldn't they? Somewhere between those extremes must be the right number.

So I started asking around. It took a long time, but eventually I found someone who was willing to give me an answer - an expert in such matters, affiliated with a prestigious institution of higher learning somewhere in the Western United States. (I would tell you more, but this person made me promise to not quote them by name. I think they could see where my inquiry was going.)

It's a simple matter of demographics, my contact explained -- the relationship between how many people are drawing benefits versus how many workers are feeding money into the system. And when you work it all out, they said, the answer is, indeed, simple:

About half.

So. Well. There you are, fellow Boomers. Our mission is now clear: if we are to save the economy for our children and their children (not to mention those other kids down the block), at least half of us will have to Die Early.
Please note that I am not talking about implementing any kind of fascistic "culling" protocol, active euthanasia, or even a "Soylent Green"-style protein-recycling program. No, my Modest Proposal is just this: we Boomers should volunteer.

And I shall be happy to be the first to do so.

After all, we've had a good run of it, haven't we? Our g-g-g-generation has been blessed by a succession of technological and cultural innovations that past generations would have found quite unimaginable - from Twinkies and "Rock'em-Sock'em Robots" to the Bay City Rollers and "Three's Company."

How good have we had we had it, my friends? Let me sum it up in two words: Count Chocula.

I rest my case.

And frankly, let me tell you, the future's looking less attractive by the moment. I know there are pharmaceutical sales reps and insurance executives out there who are literally drooling right now over the money to be made from us Boomers as we drift into our dotage. (Yes, you know who you are, don't look so innocent. Wipe off your chin, it's disgusting, really.) I am not sure that I want to serve as one of their cash cows -- even if it did mean I could spend my dwindling years watching reruns of "Three's Company" on a wall-sized 3D screen while munching on Count Chocula to my stented and pacemaker-driven heart's content.

Due to the timing of my birth, I had the completely unmerited good fortune to go through college during that brief, magical time AP/BA (i.e., After the Pill, but Before AIDS) " and by that same accident of timing, I also managed to avoid the Vietnam draft, which ended shortly before I became eligible for service. (Darn good thing, too; my random sequence number was 012.) This is just to say that I have had somewhat more than my share of fun, and given somewhat less than my share of sacrifice. (I suspect I am not alone among Boomers in this respect.) So if by leaving a little ahead of schedule I could make my daughter's future less insecure, well, then I think it's worthwhile.

So how exactly will I implement this? I don't know. I lack the intestinal fortitude to commit seppuku, I'm too acrophobic to jump off a bridge, and frankly I'm just a wimp when it comes to any kind of significant pain -- but it might work out that my present lifestyle, overindulgent and underactive as it is, might lead me directly to the desired timing. Or, if I'm really lucky, I might find some way to have a meaningful and beneficial death, one that actually serves other people in need.

In any case, I will certainly (in all seriousness, now) be sure that I have the advance directives and other legal paperwork in place to ensure that, at the first occurrence of anything even remotely fatal, I shall allowed to go quietly -- and quickly -- into that good night. When the party's over, after all, it's time to leave -- particularly if your ride is waiting.

Pete Townshend famously wrote "Hope I die before I get old," and then, of course, forgot to do just that. Wouldn't that be ironic if doing just that turned out to be our generation's greatest legacy?
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Skip Mendler is a writer, performing artist, and activist who lives in northeastern Pennsylvania. He has been performing semiprofessionally as a mime, clown, and storyteller since graduating from Harvard College in 1978. His column "The Peace and (more...)
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