When I lived in Oregon I’d occasionally drop into my neighborhood tavern. It was a glorious little hell-hole. Windowless and made from concrete blocks, it was the kind of place where a tetanus shot was highly recommended before using the restrooms.
In the dimly lit back corner you’d see people sitting in front of video poker machines. Their routine after pulling the lever was always the same – take a long drag off a cigarette, sip from a beer, and then wait for the results to arrive. At the time, I didn’t realize that a lot of tax revenue from cigarettes, alcohol, and gambling went towards supporting public schools. I thought these folks were just whittling away sunny afternoons in a liquor cave, when in reality they were actively supporting their community. Sure, it was five hours before sunset, but who cared? These people were being uber-citizens.
So my antenna went up yesterday when I read an op-ed about Social Security. The author claimed that the government is underestimating average life expectancy because it is failing to adequately consider reductions in smoking and heart disease. Since people are living longer than believed, the Social Security Trust Fund is being depleted faster than the government claims.
So what’s the solution to this? How do we ensure the solvency of America’s greatest communal welfare program? In 1961 John Kennedy provided a hint when he said “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Well, what we can do all do for America and Social Security is start drinking and smoking, hard. Get those heart disease rates back up where they belong. We can do this because America, after all, is not a land of quitters.
Like with those pioneering model citizens pulling levers in the smoke-filled Mount Scott Pub, we’ll be doing something wonderful for our kids.