TAKING STOCK: Re: The future: Safe to take off the shades

Dear Mr. Berko:

My wife and I are 52. Together, we make $83,000 and are very concerned about our ability to retire in 16 years. What's wrong with this picture? We have a terrible feeling that so many things are changing too fast. We and many of our friends have little enthusiasm for the future. Does it make any difference who is elected president this November, or whether we vote? I've worked at the same company for 17 years, and my 401(k) is only worth $16,000 more than I put in. My wife and I have been paying into Social Security for 30 years, and none of that money will be there for us at age 68. Our home and the homes of our friends are worth less than our mortgages. Where are we headed?

SR in Bethlehem, Pa.

Dear SR:

During the past seven months, I've received a worrisomely large number of emails and letters like yours expressing fear, worry, anger, confusion and doubt. The American middle class, pawns of the "nobilitas" who promised them red candy-apples, cotton candy and sugar plums, now recognize they've been suckered.

It makes no difference who wins in November, because whoever occupies the Oval Office represents less than 1 percent of the American people. So when money moguls such as the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and George Soros contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to a political campaign, what possible difference can your lousy vote make?

Since the early 1960s, President Johnson's Great Society (noblesse oblige) began to prepare Americans for a welfare state, with the Model Cities Act, Head Start, the Higher Education Act, the War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Act, the (Compulsory) Medical Care Act, the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Water Quality Act, the Food Stamp Act, the Clean Air Act, ad nauseam. And while these were initially Democratic programs, the Republicans funded them lavishly and with vigor. They favored security over risk, equality over ability and stability over innovation, and as Americans became dependent on them, so they became entitlements. These welfare models misused trillions of dollars trying to solve our long-term economic problems with short-term political solutions.

Congress got it bassackward.

Those trillions should have been invested first in airports, infrastructure growth, new business formations, deep-water ports and innovation that generated industrial growth and skilled jobs, all of which would create a succession of new tax-paying entities. Rather, the dollars were used to grow big government, to feed bloated state-supported bureaucracies, to facilitate over-funded pensions and health care, and were wasted on ridiculous secondary and university educational programs.

Things just got bigger, not better.

This generated an insatiable demand to redistribute tax dollars via more government debt to those who consume hugely more than they produce. The Great Society was a sneaky form of state capitalism in which Big Business would thrive because it has the political connections, while small business struggles to remain standing.

So, SR, remember all the good times of the past; they are not coming back. We must consume less, keep our cars longer, buy what we need rather than want, and repair rather than replace. We're entering a regeneration generation in which corporations and cities will downsize personnel, reduce pensions, lower employment and eliminate the thousands of municipal services that caused Americans to rely on bigger government.

We've segued from an age of "companions fly free" to an age of paying for each piece of luggage, from an age of customer assistance at mall stores to an age of fast, efficient and courteous self-service. We must accept a gradual decline in our standard of living and lower expectations for our future and our children's future.

Like Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, we are looking at a collapse of our welfare state that threatens the structure of government and of American capitalism. The Great Society failed to provide security and dynamism; rather, it encouraged bureaucracy, sloth, mediocrity, timidity, corruption and dependence. Get used to it, because this is your new future.

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Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775 or e-mail him at mjberko@yahoo.com. Visit Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Published: Fri, Aug 31, 2012