As rioters wreak havoc across Britain for the fourth consecutive day, conservative pundits here are predicting that President Obama’s policies — or his mere existence — will import the same level of chaos to the United States. Last night, Fox News host Sean Hannity determined that London riots are taking place in large part “because their country is going bankrupt” and the rioters are “blaming, quote, ‘rich people’ that it is their fault.” Hannity then asked guest Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) whether, because the government’s “promises can never be fulfilled, is this coming to America?”
Paul told Hannity that the chief reason behind the riots is “austere measures where people don’t get their [entitlement] checks,” and the only way to avoid such chaos is to fix the “broken” entitlement programs here in the U.S. immediately. And according to Paul, the proper fix is to gradually raise the retirement age because “there’s less young people and we are living longer.” If government instead waits five or 10 years, “there is going to be an abrupt end” to the programs and “that’s when there is rioting in the streets”:
PAUL: The way we avoid chaos, the way we avoid rioting in the streets is to start gradually fixing the problems. Entitlements are broken. And any honest Republican, Democrat or independent will tell you they’re broken because there’s less young people and we are living longer. You can fix those problems by gradually raising the age and changing the way we do the entitlements. But if you wait, if you wait five years or 10 years, then there is going to be an abrupt end, and that is what is happening in Europe when you have these austere measures where people don’t get their checks, that’s when there is rioting in the streets. But the way you avoid that is by fixing the entitlement programs now and doing it gradually.
In fact, the people who are living longer are the wealthy, a gap that has grown steadily over the years. As the Center for Economic and Policy research notes, “there has been a sharp rise in inequality in life expectancy by income over the last three decades that mirrors the growth in inequality in income.” Thus, raising the eligibility age for entitlement programs like Social Security or Medicare would unfairly shift the burden of cuts onto middle and lower-income seniors, and increase their out-of-pocket health insurance costs. As Matt Yglesias put it, the “people are living longer than ever, so let’s raise the retirement age” notion and “let’s fix [entitlements] with a benefit cut that hurts the poor really badly while largely sparing the rich” notion are essentially “equivalent ideas.”
While progressive entitlement reform and staving off street riots make the list of noble goals, raising the eligibility age to unduly disadvantage society’s most vulnerable does not.