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The Color of Money

Book of the month: Brooks’s first effort portrays a future that hits close to home

By Michelle Singletary
The Washington Post / August 7, 2011

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Imagine a world where the US government is nearly bankrupt because most of the revenue coming in is used to pay its debts.

What if a natural disaster hits somewhere in the country and is so costly - worse than anything ever seen - that it further devastates the economy?

Just imagine a United States where the younger generation is taxed heavily to fund social programs for seniors who, because of medical breakthroughs, are living well past 90.

Wait. You don’t have to imagine. Some of this is happening now. The rest of this horror story could very well be our future.

If you were disgusted watching the nation come close to a financial catastrophe as politicians primped and postured with little regard as to how their asinine bickering would affect everyday folks, let me introduce you to the future envisioned by the actor Albert Brooks in his first novel, “2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America’’ (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99).

You won’t like what happens. And you won’t like it because it hits so close to home. This book, which I’ve selected this month for The Color of Money Book Club, takes all the financial issues facing the country and puts them on steroids.

In the fictional 2030, the full retirement age has been pushed to 73. Premiums on Medicare have been raised even though coverage has been cut to bare bones.

By 2030, cancer has been cured. There are “memory drugs that were making Alzheimer’s a thing of the past.’’ America has an aging population that is largely supported by public aid. The president actually convenes a panel of experts to explore how to handle the financial burden of the elderly population.

Brooks has crafted characters old and young, rich and poor, through which we watch an America struggling to manage day to day. Eighty-year-old Brad Miller and his retired friends are looking good but are afraid because of the constant harassment from young adults resentful of supporting the social programs for seniors.

I’m sure many young adults will identify with 19-year-old Kathy Bernard, another character in Brooks’s book. She puts off going to college because the cost is too high. When Kathy’s father is shot, she’s presented with the $350,000 bill and has no idea how she will pay it. Because her dad lost his job at GM, he had no private health insurance. He had government-sponsored universal care, but the monthly premiums were too high to handle without help from an employer.

“She simply felt that her generation was getting the short end of the American dream,’’ Brooks writes.

Despite the despondency of so many, this is a good read. Maybe Brooks’s prophetic look at our future will make you want to do something, anything, to help change the course the nation is on.

Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post. She can be reached at singletarym@washpost.com.

SOURCE: Bloomberg News