by Doug French by Doug French
With the Wall Street cum Main Street meltdown, worries about a collapse of the Social Security system have been put off. Maintaining employment, putting food on the table and servicing the now-exploding payment on that negative-amortization, adjustable-rate, now underwater mortgage that seemed like such a good idea back when Alan Greenspan was the Maestro are what’s keeping Americans awake at night. Whether we will be able to draw from FDR’s what-Madoff-can-do-I-can-do-better-program is a problem for another day.
But back in 2007, just as the downside of the sub-prime securitization idea was just starting to appear, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was on its way to setting an all-time high, Christopher Buckley took a satirical swing at the Social Security question with his novel Boomsday. Buckley is well known not only for being the son of William F. Buckley, and authoring Thank You for Smoking that was made into a movie, but also for backing Barack Obama for President and subsequently resigning as columnist because of that endorsement from The National Review, the magazine his late father founded.
Not only can Buckley write, but he spent enough time inside the beltway as Bush 41’s speechwriter that spinning a believable Washington satire is second nature. It’s not so crazy to imagine that 20-something-year-olds could start protesting against paying into Social Security when they know that cupboard will be bare when their golden years roll around. Even property owners in Hoboken, New Jersey, protesting the huge tax hikes in that city, had the brass recently to display a tarred-and-feathered effigy of Hoboken mayor Dave Roberts during a rally in front of city hall.
Buckley begins his tale with young people storming the gates of retirement communities, wrecking golf carts and assaulting elderly golfers in protest of a hike in Social Security taxes. He then quickly introduces the reader to Boomsday heroine Cassandra Devine. The Red Bull swilling workaholic Cass is not yet thirty and works in the media training business by day and goes home to blog about the impending collapse of the Social Security system at night. She has no social life, but her looks don’t stand in the way. She’s a hot blond with a killer body but is up half the night, every night, "railing at the government for — fiscal irresponsibility."
Our leading lady is outraged when the Senate votes to raise payroll taxes by thirty percent only on people under 35 years old. But her boss Terry is not amused. After all, his company is a public relations firm, spreading calm, not starting revolutions. She tells him, "I’m calling for an economic Bastille Day."
"You’ve been reading Ann Rand again. I can tell," Terry says.
"Ayn Rand. And what’s wrong with that?"
Cassandra’s call for Social Security protests lands her in prison only to be released with the help of public outrage and an old acquaintance, Senator Randolph K. Jepperson. Once released, she hatches a plan to make the government solvent by offering incentives for people to kill themselves at age seventy and younger. Instead of calling it suicide, Cassandra refers to it euphemistically as "Voluntary Transitioning."
Of course her repugnant idea is just to stimulate debate; the plan would never come to a vote. If it did it would never pass. If it did pass, the president would veto it, and if he didn’t the Supreme Court would rule it unconstitutional. But that’s when the absurdity of politics takes over and the fun begins. The good Senator Jepperson sponsors the Voluntary Transitioning bill and instead of being laughed out of town catches political lightening in a bottle, while Cassandra watches in horror as Jepperson makes political sausage of her wake-up call. Along the way, the Rand-reading rebel crosses paths with her estranged father who lost her college fund on an internet startup, evangelist Gideon Payne, and the strange political bedfellows that control Washington.
Buckley’s story is set in an economic climate of stagflation, protectionism, plunging stock prices, negative economic growth, US military action around the globe, the Treasury furiously printing dollars and a projected federal deficit of $1.1 trillion. This all sounds very familiar other than the plunging dollar and high interest rates. But give it time.
No doubt, the author picked a $1.1 trillion deficit number for its shock value. But it seems quaint now that his president has proposed a $3.6 trillion dollar budget and says deficits don’t matter. As Buckley himself writes on The Daily Beast, "The US government is now spending annually about one-third of what the entire US economy produces."
Yes, Buckley sounds skeptical of the Obama plan writing in an article entitled, "The Audacity of Nope": "If he turns out to be wrong, then it will look very different, the entrance ramp to the Road to Serfdom, perhaps, and he will reap the whirlwind that follows, along with the rest of us."
Buckley’s Boomsday is loaded with laughs and sharp dialogue and would make a great movie. Unfortunately Obama’s Road to Serfdom is not fiction and no laughing matter.
Doug French [send him mail] is executive vice president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and associate editor for Liberty Watch Magazine. He received the Murray N. Rothbard Award from the Center for Libertarian Studies. See his tribute to Murray Rothbard.