Should our Medicare dollars be going to keep old people alive? No, says Slate's "Human Nature" columnist, William Saletan, in a post yesterday called "Age, Wealth, and Medicare." Basically, Saletan complains that taxpayer money is being spent to put pacemakers in people over 90 years old, and that, he says, is wrong. His conclusion could not be more clear:
If you make it to 100 and can fund your own surgery, that's terrific. But Medicare should focus its resources on people who haven't been as lucky as you. Living to 99 is no tragedy. It's a blessing.
This, of course, is the same William Saletan who last year fell naively into the arms of "scientific racists" and managed to convince himself that some races were genetically inferior in intelligence to others. He then had to backtrack in a series of followups in which he finally admitted that he had failed to adequately check out his story, and particularly the context in which this debate takes place (the entire series is reproduced at the link provided.) So one would think that Saletan would be a bit more humble and think his columns through just a little more before putting his fingers on that keyboard.
The Medicare budget for 2008 fiscal year is about $465 billion. Total spending so far on the war in Iraq is $650 billion, as I pointed out in an earlier post. And yet Saletan, like so many who speak piously about the need to carefully allocate our precious taxpayer funds as if they were wise sages grappling with difficult ethical questions, seems to accept without a second thought the idea that Medicare spending should be tightened despite the aging of the population he himself mentions: "The population of U.S. centenarians (people 100 or older) has nearly doubled since 2000. Trends suggest that within 40 years, it could exceed 1 million."
Shouldn't those who talk about allocation of resources look at the entire picture before drawing conclusions about which expenditures constitute waste or are excessive? The Bush administration has made cuts in Medicare spending a central plank of its fiscal policy, but they don't blink an eye over requests to pour ever more money into our Iraq misadventure (neither does Congress, much, these days.)
God forbid that those who have managed to live a long life should be allowed to continue living it. Perhaps we should start asking for volunteers to be euthanized so we don't have to grow the Medicare budget to take care of all these malingerers who refuse to die at a reasonable age. Saletan, how old are you now? You are never too young to die for your country!
Photo: A 100-year-old woman paraglides off a mountain peak in Cyprus. Reuters.
Update: What do I see on the New York Times home page today? The Bush administration wants to divert $230 million in anti-terror funds to upgrade Pakistan's F-16 jets, which are not used in the "war on terror" but rather are on standby for war with India. I wonder how many pacemaker operations that money would fund?
Backdate: I do not mean to imply by this post, by the way, that just any old person is qualified to be president of the United States. A couple of days ago, in the L.A. Weekly, my pal Marc Cooper suggested it was time for the referee to step in and stop the fight.