This past July, Lansing Community College economics professor Jim Luke gave a presentation sponsored by the Michigan Intergenerational Network on our Country’s intergenerational transfer programs: Social Security and Medicare. You can view his PowerPoint slides and read his blog post on the topic at www.econproph.com. The point that impacted me the most is the fact that intergenerational transfer programs are inevitable, because the very young and the very old cannot possibly generate the resources necessary to support their well being. When societies lack formal intergenerational transfer programs, the task of supporting the two ends of the lifespan usually falls to the family. However, that arrangement allows many children and old people to lack support because of death, social changes, economic instability, acrimony within families, mental illness, war or other hazards.
A form of social insurance is more reliable and benefits the society as a whole, due to the economic stability provided by predictable income, and therefore predictable cash infusion into the economy. In other words, our intergenerational transfer programs are not perks that old people receive to the detriment of the young. They’re an organized way of addressing a universal social problem, and the current solution provides additional advantage to everyone in the society. Indeed, we need to preserve them so that the economically productive group that is contributing now to Social Security and Medicare will ultimately receive the same benefit that they are providing to their elders. Breaking the intergenerational compact, that would be an injustice to the young! Sue Sweeney, Chair, Gerontology Department, Madonna University