A few days ago, my parents asked me to stop saving money.
“We accidentally spent a little too much, and we need your help to cover our costs. So we’d like you to drop out of school, get a job and use your income to pay for our new home in Florida.“
If this sounds ridiculous to you, it shouldn’t. Because on a national and less immediate level, this scenario is playing out in real-time. The country’s two houses of Congress—a group of people whose average age is about 60—have now voted to increase the national debt above $15 trillion.
That figure is so enormous that even if the United States started repaying its debt today at a rate of $100 a second, it would take us over 4,000 years to eliminate it.
There’s only one obvious loser here—young people. Because Washington politicians refuse to get serious about the issue, we—not they—are going to spend the rest of our lives paying back the enormous debt they have accumulated.
Serious economists warn that lack of dramatic cuts will make America look like Greece within a matter of years. If you think getting a job right now is tough, try doing so in a country on the brink of bankruptcy.
So what are our politicians smoking, you ask? Why would our friendly neighborhood legislators want to hurt us like this?
The economics of this issue are pretty simple. In a battle between satisfying the interests of future taxpayers and those of Washington lobbyists, there isn’t much of a fight to be had. Students and young people aren’t much of a political force—they rarely vote, and they don’t have a lot of money.
You don’t need to be Karl Rove to get that sacrificing the cash of some future taxpayer who is barely paying attention in order to satisfy the interests of rich donors is a no-brainer political move.
So powerful interest groups are forcing outrageous levels of spending on important things that should be a lot cheaper.
Major defense corporations lobby Congress for spending on the most expensive equipment available, so America currently spends more on defense than the next 14 countries … combined. Nice to know we would be able to take down an unholy alliance of China, Russia and Australia. And Canada.
Ambulance chasing trial lawyers, pharmaceutical companies and other lobbyists collude to keep health care costs up, so the United States spends more on health care per capita than any other country in the world. In exchange, we are blessed with … wait for it … the world’s 37th best health care system, according to the World Health Organization.
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And in part because teachers’ unions fight against sensible, merit-based policies in education, America spends the second most per K-12 student of all OECD countries but doesn’t even crack the top 10 in education rankings.
Whether you’re planning on voting for Obama or Romney, don’t delude yourself into thinking that either candidate is serious about doing something.
Mitt Romney pontificates on our “moral responsibility not to spend more than we take in,” all the while pledging tax cuts that will cost the government over three trillion dollars.
Never one to be outmatched, candidate Obama once called former President Bush’s over three-trillion dollar addition to the national debt “irresponsible and unpatriotic,” but President Obama has himself overseen nearly six trillion dollars in increases. Change remains something we’ll just have to believe in, I guess.
Some of this was necessary to bolster the economy out of recession, true. But that doesn’t excuse the huge overspending that remains in health care, education and defense, among other things. Drastic action is still needed.
Fortunately, there are two guys who, against all odds, are trying to do something. Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson were nominated by President Obama to co-chair a Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Their team presented four trillion dollars in proposed cuts. President Obama duly ignored the recommendations, even though he created the commission. So the two leaders have decided to go rogue, making speeches and appearances to try to get the public riled up.
In a recent interview, they explained that they were trying to use Facebook and other social media platforms as a means of generating youth interest in the issue. Their lack of success to date is hardly surprising. It ain’t easy for two ex-legislators who vaguely resemble the two old guys from the Muppets to rile up Generation X on an issue that involves a lot of numbers.
But their message rings true. So I say we make these guys—and their important message—famous. We should go on the offense on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and for good measure, MySpace. We should tell our parents that, just as they refused to fight in the stupid Vietnam War, we refuse to pay for their stupid spending.
And in one united voice, we need to say: #StopMortgagingMyFutureYouF*ckers
Jeremy Ruch is a Trinity junior. This is his final column of the semester.