Whether the forum is a community council in Salt Lake City or the committee rooms of the United States Senate, there is much concern about the next generation of Americans.
It’s going to be too big. Or no, wait. It’s going to be too small.
Even as urban Utah and many other growing cities wonder where the heck they are going to put all these people, their cars, their children, some serious thinkers — and non-serious personages such as Utah Sen. Mike Lee and his idea that having more children will solve everything — are worried the number of babies born in rich countries is dropping.
Some are blunt enough to say a declining birth rate is bad, issues of ecological sustainability aside. This is because the way the U.S. and other developed nations have structured their pension and health care plans, a smaller number of workers paying into the system won’t be able to support a larger number of retired folks drawing from it.
In this way of thinking, a working-class baby is less the product of love and hope than a variable in an actuarial equation. Which is a really lousy reason to create a human life. Especially if she will grow up in substandard housing, going to bad schools, in a world that’s burning up.
Meanwhile, back on the Wasatch Front, the view is we have too many people. We have to step over homeless folks on our way to bid way above the asking price for a decent home in a good location, only to find out that we lost out to an investor who’s going to turn the property into an AirBnB.
No wonder a lot of women don’t see having more, or any, children as a good idea.
Pulling levers to boost the building of more housing is contentious, especially when existing homeowners are opposed, and slow to take shape. Just building more may not do much to bring housing within the reach of more families, as cities in Utah have no power to control rents and developers will be motivated to always go for the high end.
The state could help by instituting a real estate transfer tax, already in use in several states, to raise money to subsidize builders or, better, renters.
Set small enough — say, 0.3% of a home’s purchase price — such a tax could add a flyspeck to monthly mortgage payments, for people who can afford homes, while accumulating maybe $100 million a year in Utah to help people who can’t.
We are going to have to start thinking differently about a few things. To imagine, as John Lennon said, that there are no countries. And no religion, too.
First, face whatever need we have for more working taxpayers by boosting legal immigration and accepting migrants already here. Not open borders. A realization that a real market economy means the movement of labor to where it is needed should be at least as free as it is for goods and capital.
Also, abandon the religiously based idea that all should be fruitful and multiply. The 21st century economy allows women to build their own lives with education and work ethic, not their ability to snare a man who’s a good hunter and will only continue to provide for his wife if she has several children to solidify their bond.
At the national level, Utah’s Sen. Mitt Romney is looking to shore up the sustainability of Social Security and Medicare in the face of these demographic trends with an idea he calls the Trust Act. Which is really an idea to force Congress to have an idea.
If the bill were to pass, Congress would appoint four bipartisan select committees, one each for Social Security retirement, Social Security disability, Medicare and the Highway Trust Fund. Each of those panels would come up with a plan to keep each fund from going bust over the next 11 years. Congress would then be required to vote each plan up or down, not weigh it down with amendments and filibusters and what-abouts.
Fine. But if the plan Congress votes on doesn’t include higher taxes on the rich to support programs that make life decent and tolerable for the not-so-rich, it will be both immoral and unworkable.
The most obvious step would be to remove the cap on the income the Social Security tax is applied to. As it sits, the 12.4% payroll tax (half from the employee, half from the employer) only comes out of the first $147,000 of income. That means that if you make $147,000 a year, you pay the same about of FICA tax as someone making $1.47 million, or $14.7 million, which is neither fair nor sustainable.
If we need workers, housing for workers and health care and pensions for workers, we need to pay for them. We need to go where the money is. And it ain’t those workers’ paychecks.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, thanks the working folks whose payroll taxes are funding his Medicare.