"The test of a first-rate intelligence," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, "is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." As dumb statements from America's most overrated writer go, this one is not quite on a par with "there are no second acts in American lives," but it's right up there. Indeed, it might better said that the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one's head and thinking you retain the ability to function is the test of a ninth-rate intelligence, and in fact explains many of the problems that currently plague this third act of American life. Here are three:
The coming collapse of the Social Security/Medicare system.
The Great American Ponzi Scheme has been in trouble since the day it was enacted, based as it was on several self-contradicting ideas. The first was providing a modest "retirement" income at government expense for people who by definition had paid nothing into the system but who were now "entitled" to it. Consider the case of Ida May Fuller, the first recipient, who on Jan. 31, 1940, received her first monthly check for $22.54, having paid into the "trust fund" for all of three years:
On January 31, 1940, the first monthly retirement check was issued to Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vermont, in the amount of $22.54. Miss Fuller, a Legal Secretary, retired in November 1939. She started collecting benefits in January 1940 at age 65 and lived to be 100 years old, dying in 1975. The accumulated taxes on her salary during those three years was a total of $24.75. During her lifetime she collected a total of $22,888.92 in Social Security benefits.
Fuller: happy days are here again.
Off to a sound start! Today, almost everyone acknowledge the program is in deep and utterly predictable financial trouble, including the Social Security Administration itself:
As a result of changes to Social Security enacted in 1983, benefits are now expected to be payable in full on a timely basis until 2037, when the trust fund reserves are projected to become exhausted. At the point where the reserves are used up, continuing taxes are expected to be enough to pay 76 percent of scheduled benefits. Thus, the Congress will need to make changes to the scheduled benefits and revenue sources for the program in the future. The Social Security Board of Trustees project that changes equivalent to an immediate reduction in benefits of about 13 percent, or an immediate increase in the combined payroll tax rate from 12.4 percent to 14.4 percent, or some combination of these changes, would be sufficient to allow full payment of the scheduled benefits for the next 75 years.
Hey, why is that?
This increase in cost results from population aging, not because we are living longer, but because birth rates dropped from three to two children per woman. Importantly, this shortfall is basically stable after 2035; adjustments to taxes or benefits that offset the effects of the lower birth rate may restore solvency for the Social Security program on a sustainable basis for the foreseeable future. Finally, as Treasury debt securities (trust fund assets) are redeemed in the future, they will just be replaced with public debt. If trust fund assets are exhausted without reform, benefits will necessarily be lowered with no effect on budget deficits.
Social Security's problems aren't just its unrealistic economics, which posited starting from a hole and an ever-increasing work force paying taxes in order to support the generation ahead of it; the "trust fund" was always a polite fiction, which as you see is now being stealthily abandoned. But keeping Social Security solvent isn't just a matter of calibrating tax rates. What FDR and its founders never contemplated was that Americans would stop having children, and yet continue to expect retirement money. So the solution is obvious: ladies (and some gentlemen), if you proudly announce you will never have children, that your career is more important and you get all the love you need from your "fur babies," your SS benefits should be $0.00 until such time as you actually get some skin in the game in the form of real babies. (Adopting doesn't count.)
Lawyers and politicians: a classic racket.
Now that I'm back on Twitter/X (@theAmanuensis), I ventured this observation yesterday:
No one with a law degree should be eligible to stand for public office, ever. Having the same people who benefit from the legal system be in charge of it is the very definition of conflict of interest.
Why, I oughtta...
We like to boast that we are "a government of laws, not men," but that's only partially true. We are a government of laws written, voted on, and interpreted by lawyers for their own benefit. This is why, no matter whom we vote for, nothing ever gets done, no house ever gets cleaned, no swamp ever gets drained, no "reform" is ever worth the paper the lawyers print it on. To do otherwise would upset the racket known as the Government/Lawyer complex.
Lawyers have become a secular priest class, the guys who claim expertise in the workings of our legal system and who while running for office promise to "fix" it. But they only fix they know is the one that's already in. Banning lawyers from ever running for office would have several salutatory effects, among them returning the government to the non-Ivy League law school graduates who make up the vast majority of real Americans, as well as de-"professionalizing" politics, eliminating its legalistic jargon, and, eventually, attaining a Supreme Court entirely devoid of lawyers. A government of laws, run by non-lawyers with common sense, would be more like what the Founders envisioned.
Granting "asylum" to Ukrainians only helps Putin.
Well, doesn't it? If the Ukraine really is a "country" fighting for its existence against big bad Vladimir Putin (who really is a guy fighting a rear-guard action to restore some semblance of his country that was lost in the aftermath of the Cold War, including its historic heart), then why are Western governments, especially in Europe, offering Ukrainian draft-dodgers succor and shelter? Here's the situation:
Nearly 20,000 men have fled Ukraine since the beginning of the war to avoid being drafted, the BBC has discovered. Some have swum dangerous rivers to leave the country. Others have simply walked out under cover of darkness. Another 21,113 men attempted to flee but were caught by the Ukrainian authorities, Kyiv confirmed.
After Russia's invasion, most men aged 18-60 were banned from leaving. But data obtained by the BBC reveals dozens have made it out daily. "What am I supposed to do [in Ukraine]?" one man, Yevgeny, said. "Not everyone is a warrior… you don't need to keep the whole country locked up. You can't lump everyone together like they did in the Soviet Union."
Well, as Vito Corleone famously said, "you can act like a man." A nation of cowards who won't fight can't really be called a "nation," can it?
After Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine imposed martial law, under which all males between the ages of 18 and 60 were considered liable for military service and could be mobilized unless they were eligible for a deferment. In 2023, the rules of military registration were updated to include women. But the measures stopped short of full conscription.
Martial law introduced draconian travel restrictions. Men between 18 and 60 are generally barred from exiting the country, although there are a wide range of exemptions, covering everything from single parents of young children to professional athletes.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration insists on funneling money to Kiev, no matter what. And E.U. countries continue to offer generous benefits to Ukrainians who escape their own "country," even while insisting they're supporting Zelensky. What sense does that make?
Who's in charge here?
None at all, but it doesn't matter. As Humpty Dumpty tells Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all."
Like the big egg, however, we've fallen and now have lost our ability to function. And all the king's horses and all the king's men can't put us back together again.