Here's a novel idea. If you really think it through, maybe Social Security and Medicare are nothing more than an effort to institutionalize a uniquely American concept of personal independence. Stay with me here...
I read somewhere that two thirds of Medicare payments go to nursing homes and I have no reason to doubt this figure. But for the elderly, what are the alternatives to nursing homes? There's really only one I can think of. That would be living with one's kids. In American culture, this arrangement is almost universally viewed a failed lifestyle. Consider:
While watching the National Geographic show about The Three Gorges Dam in China, I was particularly struck by the tremendous difficulties the Chinese faced in relocating families whose homes and farms were going to be submerged by the rising waters of the Yangtze River.
In nearly every case, the families being displaced were noticeably different in composition from typical American families. To wit: a typical, traditional Chinese family usually consists of at least 3 generations living together. And each generation - at least so far as I could see - had some worthwhile skill to add.
Here in America, we tend to view things differently. We attain adulthood, establish careers, get married, raise families, then retire. In China, traditionally, all of these phases of life occur within the same family in the same home.
In America, the success of parents in raising kids is determined by how soon and how well the kids are able to move off and start their own lives - independent of their parents. Well brought up kids are supposed to reach a point in life where they no longer need the help of their parents to make their way.
Steve, I can well remember the stories of how my grandfather and grandmother looked after my great grandmother in her declining years. My great grandmother had her own room in my grandparent's home. My grandmother spend considerable time attending to her.
Nowadays that sort of arrangement is a thing of the past. In today's world, my great grandmother would be living in a nursing home, essentially a ward of the state. In all cases, parents, forced by necessity to live with their grown kids, would be mortified, and consider themselves absolute failures.
Is it possible that in the process of limiting, culturally, the definition of what constitutes a successful family, we have lost something?
Ironically, it seems to me that all the cultural warriors out there fighting to define and defend marriage - the "one man one woman" crowd - are missing the point. What they should be actively promoting is not traditional marriages, but traditional families.
Maybe this sounds naive and simplistic and I'm sorry if it does, but if you are going to assert that stable marriages comprise the bedrock of American society, why would you not consider multi-generational families to be the best (and perhaps only) alternative to entitlements - and have the courage to say so?
Just trying to think a little outside the box here...