Steamboat Springs Most people seem to feel the urge to proclaim they are optimists. I think they perceive this as a big plus in their personalities and how others see them. I take a different approach, billing myself as a realist who works very hard to affect a positive outcome. There is a difference, particularly with those who just refuse to recognize objective truth. Ignoring reality is no asset and is, in fact, quite dangerous. This especially is true of the professional politicians we elect, whom I believe are paid to worry for us along with telling us the truth. I also would argue this means having the courage to fight for reforms even if the people don't appear to be ready for them.
We all know Social Security is a looming disaster. In less than a decade, it will be taking in less than it pays out. That pales with Medicare and Medicaid, which already has built up more unfunded trillions than I have fingers and toes, yet we're still adding on. It's a pay-as-you-go system that mandates current workers fund retired ones with a ratio of 3-to-1 and declining rapidly. Unsustainable? What do you think?
Am I scaring you yet? Even with the economy in the toilet right now, it appears the answer may be negative. Apparently, it's just too hard to think about because we've only gotten hit with the 4-by-4 once or twice between the eyes, not the dozen times to make a real impression.
So try this: Take a look at the unfunded pensions coming due in the next few years. And picture your 72-year-old uncle Dave, who has worked all his life for the city of ABC only to get a letter informing him that despite the promises made 30 or 40 years ago, he can just forget them because the money's all gone. Or your mom who slaved away at XYZ Corporation for decades then receives a similar notice in her 60s or 70s. Hey, kids, what do I do now?
Well, if you're not frightened, I am. Talk about class or age warfare. Who are the scapegoats going to be? The young who refuse to be taxed 60 to 70 percent of their income to meet the promises to the retirees? The politicians who didn't do their job raising the alarm (who are now likely long gone)? The present powers-that-be who essentially are powerless because these programs need the magic of compound interest with early funding to meet the obligations?
The answer probably is all of the above, and it still won't do any good. It will be what it will be, and the only attempt at satisfaction will be screaming at the most convenient suspect. There also will be exposes of situations that I've personally witnessed for 40-plus years: UAW workers sleeping six to seven hours of their eight-hour graveyard shift; local politicians playing Santa to the unions demanding "20 or 25 years and out" for public employees as our life expectancy was increasing by decades; rules that allowed a worker's pension to be based on his last year's income where the unwritten rule was to allow everyone to work 100 hours instead of their normal 40 so their lifetime retirement benefit often exceeded their normal income. These all are well-documented and OK - one guy doing that sounds great, at least for him. But thousands or millions doing it will break the city, state or even GM and Chrysler. And it's doing just that. We just haven't been willing to recognize just how extensive it is : yet.
Gary Hofmeister is the owner and operator of Hofmeister Personal Jewelers in downtown Steamboat Springs, a company he founded in 1973. He is a director of the Conservative Leadership Council of Northwest Colorado and a former Republican nominee for Congress in the 10th District of Indiana. He made 1