I have a 31-year-old son who made me and his father itchy at a recent family dinner because he went off on a tangent about the unfairness of Social Security, raising the ire and the voices of the Social Security recipients at the table, and leaving the rest of us scrambling for a topic that would move the conversation elsewhere.
My guess is that in the next few years, we're not the only family that is going to have this kind of discussion. Social Security has the potential to pit younger generations who are being asked to pay into a strapped system against older recipients and contributors who want what they see as their due, no matter what.
Gary Hoover, professor of economics at the University of Alabama and an expert on the intersection of politics and government finance, says flatly that the baby boomer generation will fight "tooth and claw" to protect Social Security. He says, "I don't see this voting block as willing to compromise at all on this issue."
Hoover believes that the only two segments of the national budget that can be trimmed enough to have an impact on the current deficit are Social Security and defense. When push comes to shove -- by 2037 -- he sees cuts to Social Security as much less likely than cuts to defense.
"In the end, we won't get serious about reforming Social Security until there is an absolute crisis," he says. "Then there will be Draconian measures."
Of course, conversation and compromise make far more sense. But just like it is at my family dinner table, changing the subject and serving the pie and coffee is much easier than confrontation.