One thing that bugs me about democracy is how it favors the old and shafts the young. While the older generation gets to vote in huge numbers, tens of millions of citizens younger than 18 are frozen out of the process. Since these kids have no right to vote, they have no say in choosing a candidate who will best serve their future.
So they depend on the kindness of politicians who care about future generations. In an era obsessed with the here and now, good luck finding many of those.
“If you go back and look at the federal budgets during the mid-20th century, you see that they spent money on the future — on programs like NASA, infrastructure projects, child welfare, research and technology,” writes David Brooks of The New York Times. “Today, we spend most of our money on the present — on tax loopholes and health care for people over 65.”
Brooks quotes a study that shows that in 1962, 14 cents of every federal dollar not going to interest payments was spent on entitlement programs. Today, 47 percent of every dollar is spent on entitlements. By 2030, 61 cents of every noninterest dollar will be spent on entitlements.
We often hear about the need to take more money from the wealthy — the top 1 percent — and redistribute it to the poor through tax increases.
But rarely do we hear about another form of redistribution: taking money from our kids’ future to fund the present.
This is the silent tax — the tax we ram down our kids’ throats whether they like it or not.
“Today’s youth, both here and abroad, have been screwed by their parents’ fiscal profligacy and economic mismanagement,” writes Joel Kotkin on The Daily Beast.
By the time these youths reach voting age, the damage is already too deep.
“No generation has suffered more from the Great Recession than the young,” Kotkin writes. “The unemployment rate for people between 18 and 29 is nearly 50 percent above the national average.”
As Gen-X writer Kirsten Powers of The Daily Beast writes: “We were the first generation to be told we would never get Social Security or Medicare, even though we would be forced to pay into these programs.”
She adds: “No amount of coddling by their well-provided-for Boomer parents can save Generation Y and the Millennials from the dire economic conditions they face, including criminal levels of educational debt. Pensions have gone the way of the horse and buggy. You want to retire with health-care benefits, as both my professor parents did? Good luck. As the 1994 movie turned Gen-X mantra has it: Reality Bites.”
The reality that bites America today is simply this: There is no chance to repair the havoc we have wreaked on our kids’ future unless we reform entitlements.
“Entitlement spending is crowding out spending on investments in our children and on infrastructure,” Brooks writes. “This spending is threatening national bankruptcy. It’s increasing so quickly that there is no tax increase imaginable that could conceivably cover it.”
When we look at the election through that prism, Brooks says, the crucial question is: “Which candidate can slow the explosion of entitlement spending so we can devote more resources toward our future?”
He says President Obama deserves some credit for trying to tackle this problem, but, “You wouldn’t call Obama a passionate reformer. He’s trimmed on the edges of entitlements. He’s not done anything that might fundamentally alter their ruinous course.”
When you look at Mitt Romney on this issue, he says, “You see surprising passion.” As he puts it, “If you believe entitlement reform is essential for national solvency, then Romney-Ryan is the only train leaving the station.
“Moreover, when you look at the Medicare reform package Romney and Ryan have proposed, you find yourself a little surprised. You think of them of as free-market purists, but this proposal features heavy government activism, flexibility and rampant pragmatism.”
I agree that the entitlement explosion — with the Mount Everest of debt it has created — is the biggest economic threat facing our country. Our kids will never forgive us if we don’t get a grip on this runaway train that’s on a collision course with their future.
A smart politician said it best: “Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”
That was Sen. Barack Obama in 2006, before he became a leader himself and under whose leadership the national debt increased by $5 trillion.
That is one thing that doesn’t bug me about democracy — you can promise all you want, but sooner or later, whether your name is Bush, Obama or Romney, you’ll be held accountable.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org